For India, the World Cup campaign has been such smooth sailing so far, that it is slightly unnerving. Aside from the scare against West Indies, India has barely had to break stride, or switch to Plan B. And, even when the wobble was on, the team was in the safe hands of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who finishes One-Day Internationals better than most players who have tried their hand at the format.
India’s convincing win over South Africa was something few predicted, and this was understandable, given India’s lead-up to the World Cup. In the Test matches in Australia, and the tri-series that followed, India’s bowlers struggled on multiple counts. Taking 20 wickets in a Test match appeared next to impossible, and although there was pace on display, this was not wed with the accuracy required to build pressure. Without pressure, the runs flowed all too freely.
All this changed – exactly how, when or why, it’s nearly impossible to tell. But, from the first ball of the World Cup, India’s bowlers have been switched on in a manner rarely seen. This was all too evident even deep into the campaign, when India rocked up to the nets in Seddon Park, Hamilton, going through its paces under grey skies and a fine drizzle.
Umesh Yadav, Mohit Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were completely relaxed in the nets, and yet, when they ran in, it was with purpose and vigour. All through this tournament, Umesh and Shami have been hitting the mid-140s, in terms of speed, and Mohit has made every attempt to stretch himself and give it his all, while holding his line and length.
In recent times, whenever India has travelled, talk about how its batsmen would play genuine fast bowling has followed it around. For a change, now, India’s bowlers are the ones dishing it out. While they have not hooped the ball around corners, as New Zealand’s swing bowlers have, or blasted out batsmen like Mitchell Johnson has, or extracted steepling bounce a la Mohammed Irfan, the Indian attack has combined exceptionally well.
The starts have been provided by Umesh and Shami, and Mohit, funneling the ball down a corridor first change, has ensured that batsmen have not had the luxury to relax even after the first spell has been seen off. With early wickets in the bag in almost every game, the jobs of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have been made significantly easier. Ashwin has bowled with imagination and flair, and Jadeja has brought his not inconsiderable experience to the fore, tying down batsmen and allowing the others to attack from the other end.
When India is winning, it is rare to be speaking of its bowlers, for usually it is the batting that is expected to do the lion’s share of the work, papering over cracks that opponents might discover and try to drive a wedge into. It is not as though the batting has not done its job, there certainly has been little room for complaint, the West Indies match aside, but so startling has the bowling renaissance been that the rockstars of the team, the batsmen, have been temporarily forced to take a place in the shade.
While the bowlers working with each other in such harmony to make Dhoni’s job easier was a touch unexpected, there is nothing unusual about how well this Indian team has fielded. In the ring, the likes of Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina and Jadeja all have quick feet and rocket throws. The slip catching has been safe and the ground fielding efficient and almost entirely without outright glitches.
If India faces a challenge now, it is two-fold. Firstly, Ireland is alive and kicking in the tournament, and genuinely on the hunt for a place in the quarter-final. Ireland is as well drilled as any Associate team has ever been, sharp in the field, disciplined with the ball and utterly capable of racking up 300 with the bat.
The second challenge for India is adapting to the conditions in New Zealand. While it would welcome the cooler weather, the small boundaries would force a change in mindset in both batting and bowling. Bowlers have to pick their spots to defend, and batsmen have to resist the temptation to target one particular boundary or another when the ball is not in the right zone to make the most of. Batsmen also have to be cognisant of the fact that twos and threes would be few and far between.
This Indian team has shown no mercy in the tournament so far, and if Ireland fail to bring their A game to the fore, or show any signs of hesitancy, the juggernaut could roll on, gathering more momentum.
India: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt, wk), Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Mohit Sharma, Umesh Yadav.
Ireland: William Porterfield (capt), Paul Stirling, Ed Joyce, Andrew Balbirnie, Niall O’ Brien, Kevin O’ Brien, Gary Wilson (wk), John Mooney, Alex Cusack, George Dockrell, Andy McBrine.
You can follow the build up to the game and the live scoring and match highlights for India v Ireland here in the ICC Match Centre.