If India had been given a choice of which team they would like to have played in the quarterfinal, it would have been Bangladesh, and I say this with no disrespect to the Bangladeshi team. I have been extremely impressed by the way Bangladesh have performed in this competition. They have raised their game by at least two notches.
One of the things that has struck me about this team is how calm and composed it is in tight situations. In the past, we have seen teams from Bangladesh get excited and carried away. When you get emotional in the middle, you often end up making the wrong decisions. The senior group within the Bangladesh ranks must be commended for keeping their heads in a crisis, and the youngsters have fed off the calmness of the experienced players.
You could make out Bangladesh’s intentions from the intensity they have brought to the game. They were extremely focussed against England, knowing that victory would assure them of a place in the quarterfinal. Mahmudullah played intelligently on his way to becoming the first Bangladeshi to score a century in the World Cup, and then the bowling group was excellent in defending 275. I thought Rubel Hossain was exceptional with his control, and the manner in which he stepped in in the final overs to bowl his team to victory was very heartening.
As if to show that their victory against England was no flash in the pan, Bangladesh nearly put it past New Zealand too in their final game. It needed some solid late hitting for New Zealand to get over the line, but Mahmudullah was again in great touch with another hundred, and the bowlers kept picking up wickets. Even if New Zealand eventually squeaked home, Bangladesh’s performances in the last two matches have changed the perception of people about the team. They have gained tremendous respect by qualifying for the knockout stages, and several of the players have made a mark for themselves.
Despite all this, I still back India to come through unscathed. I know that every time India meet Bangladesh in the World Cup, everyone goes back to 2007 and what happened in Port of Spain. This Indian side bears no resemblance to that team whose morale was so low right from the start of the competition. Even though Bangladesh are playing their best cricket, this is a happy Indian side that has mastered the art of winning crunch games.
From now onwards, this is almost an entirely new tournament, therefore the approach will also be different from all the teams. From here on, there are no second chances. It’s a do-or-die situation and everyone will look to up the tempo further. There simply is no room for mistakes or slip-ups.
And while India’s bowlers have continued to deliver the goods match after match, once again the onus will be on the batsmen to do the running. At this stage of the competition, I can’t see too many pitches favouring the bowlers. Consequently, the batsmen must embrace the responsibility of carrying the team on their shoulders. Scores of 300 are fast becoming the norm for sides batting first. If the Indian bowlers can restrict oppositions to less than 300, then great credit to them. It is important that they continue to keep up the good work, because that becomes crucial in more ways than one.
When the bowlers do well, it allows the batsmen to go in with a positive frame of mind. It also allows Dhoni the freedom of thinking with a clear mind about things like the batting order, like his own batting. This wonderful balance of spirit between the bowling and the batting must be sustained for India to go all the way and retain the cup.
Irrespective of what happened in the Zimbabwe game where Brendan Taylor played a memorable innings, R Ashwin remains a key player of the Indian side, no matter who the opposition is. He is turning out to be one of the very few spinners in the competition commanding tremendous respect from every team. He is very much like Anil Kumble. Dhoni is happy using him in the first 10 overs, in the Batting Power Play and at the death too. That’s because Dhoni sees him as a wicket-taking bowler, not as someone who will only look to contain the opposition. In Mohammed Shami and Ashwin, Dhoni has two strike bowlers, which is excellent news for a captain because he isn’t just thinking of finishing off the quota of overs.
All the five bowlers are bowling great runs at the moment, which is fantastic, but significantly, when the odds are stacked against the bowlers, the Indians are safely placed because they have two solid wicket-taking options at all stages of the innings. 2015 © ICC Development (International) Limited