The Fate of the Furious

The Fate of the Furious
The Fast and the Furious

The Fate of the Furious (F & F 8)

India huff and puff over the line against Dutch

India's game against the Netherlands is best viewed in context of this fact: After a superb start to their campaign with 292/6 score in the opening game against England, the Dutch crumbled for 115 in under 32 overs against the West Indies, and for 120 in 34.5 overs against South Africa.

Viewed from that perspective, the game today was never going to be competitive; the question always was not whether India would win, but what the Indians would take away from the game in the form of learnings.

Would we, for instance, try the likes of Ravichandran Aswhin and Ashish Nehra, to get an idea of their form and fitness ahead of the big games?
The answer was half and half --- India brought in Nehra for Munaf, but persisted with Chawla while leaving Ashwin on the bench (A wag on Twitter remarked the other day: "Ashwin is Dhoni's secret weapon. He is saving him for the IPL.").

"Compared to Ashwin, Chawla needs more practice," Dhoni said before the game --- a fairly bizarre statement to make. The Indian selectors and captain hadn't felt the need to play Chawla in the squad even once in the 12 months leading up to the World Cup. Which raises the question: Do you play your men into form in the run up to the World Cup, or do you use cricket's biggest stage to wet nurse your players and give them form and confidence?
Back to the game, where the Netherlands can actually pat themselves on the back for having lasted longer against the Indians than they managed in the previous two games (46.4 overs) and also that they managed to score more (189) than they got against the West Indies and South Africa.

Credit for this is owed to a solid if unspectacular start on a Firozeshah Kotla track that had very little in it for seam bowlers early on (MS Dhoni brought Yusuf Pathan on as early as the 4th over, after just one over from Nehra; Harbhajan came on in the 7th at the other end).

Eric Scwarczynski, making his first game, and Wesley Baressi had to work to make runs especially against the slower bowlers on a slow pitch, but the 56 runs they added at a decent 3.7 put a decent platform in place.

Once Piyush Chawla --- who in recent times appears to have become a googly bowler with leg spin as his surprise weapon, rather than the other way around --- struck with one of his googlies that Scwarczynski misread, staying back and making a mess of an attempted dab to be bowled through the gate.

From that point on it was a fairly dismal procession. The only real point of interest was whether the likes of Ryan ten Doeschate and Tom Cooper would manage to put a scare into the bowling side. They didn't. Yuvraj Singh foxed ten Doeschate by tossing one up a bit wider and giving it more of a tweak; the batsman drove as invited only to find the ball flaring off the outer edge for Zaheer Khan in the outfield to hold inches inside the line at long off.

Nehra, whose opening spell was one over, was brought back in the 30th to use any reverse possible with a ball by then scruffed by the hard Kotla outfield; he struck with his first ball, an off cutter outside the line of the stumps and going further that Cooper aimed a hit at and managed only to snick behind.

Once those two wickets fell, in the 29th and 30th overs, the procession resumed thanks to some amateurish running between the wickets, a fortuitous wicket to Chawla, and another guileful display by Yuvraj Singh who yet again was the best Indian spinner on view.

What saved Netherlands' blushes was a 38 run partnership for the 9th wicket between Peter Borren and Mudassar Bukhari at a hectic 9.9 runs per over.
Borren began upping the ante in the 42nd over when he lashed the otherwise tight Yuvraj for ten runs including two fours.

In the next over, he did Dhoni's plan to give Chawla some confidence a bit of no-good when he carted the leg spinner for two huge sixes over long on and midwicket.

Bukhari got into the act as well, smashing two sixes off Nehra and one off Harbhajan, before Zaheer returned to enforce discipline, taking both batsmen out in the 47th over to ensure that India's bowling did not have to blush too furiously.

Chawla's day was best summed up by an incident in the 39th over. He started with a half-tracker so horrible schoolboys would blush to have bowled it --- it was dumped half way down the pitch, it was outside line of leg, it was a horror of a ball. Kervezee took a swing at a ball he could have left alone and gotten the wide, or swept behind square; all he managed to do was pick out Harbhajan Singh on the line at midwicket. As he saw his spin partner claim the catch, Chawla reacted with an embarrassed smile that stayed on his face as his mates came over to congratulate him.

It was that kind of day --- the spinner showed a palpable lack of control particularly on his leg breaks; on the few occasions when pressure was turned on, he reacted by losing even the little control he did have.

As for the other spinner, Harbhajan went another game without a single wicket to show for his efforts --- this despite a helpful track and mediocre opposition. 'Nuff said.

In sum, India's performance with the ball and in the field told us nothing we did not know --- the fielding remains full of holes waiting to be exploited; the bowling with the exception of Zaheer and, ironically, Yuvraj, remains club class --- and those are bad signs ahead of big games against South Africa and the West Indies.

All the excitement of India's chase was confined to the first ten overs, during which the combination of Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Yusuf Pathan plundered 83 runs off the Dutch bowling.

Sehwag (39 off 26) was murderous, continuing his practice of hitting the first ball of the Indian innings for a four and blasting 4 more boundaries and two sixes with stroke-play bordering on the arrogant.

Sachin Tendulkar (27 off 22), in contrast, was imperious, stroking six silken fours on both sides of the wicket with little regard for the identity of the bowler or the line and length of the deliveries he chose to hit.

Sehwag was particularly severe on the slow left arm of Pieter Seelar, whom he took for 11 runs off 4 balls faced (one four, one six, one single, thank you) while Sachin picked ten Doeschate for special attention, hammering his right arm medium offerings for 20 runs off 9 balls faced in course of an innings that saw him become the first player in history to cross 2000 runs in World Cups.

Both openers, and the promoted Pathan(11 off 10), fell to their own exuberance rather than to any special excellence in Seelar's bowling. Sehwag moved outside the line and tried to thump Seelar over point but only managed a slice to the fielder there; Tendulkar skipped down the track to Seelar and only managed to hole out to long off; a predetermined Pathan misread a quicker one, his bat was poised already for a full swing and all he managed with a hurried defensive prod was to pat it tamely back to the bowler.

The rest settled down to huff and puff their way to the target, creating artificial excitement with the loss of more wickets. Kohli playing all around a straight Borren delivery to be bowled off stump; Gambhir, who survived a run out opportunity, giving it away by moving too far across to a Bukhari delivery to be bowled leg stump off his thigh pad.

Sanity returned with MS Dhoni (19 off 40) and Yuvraj Singh (51 off 73) --- weighing in with the bat yet again in a second successive Man of the Match performance -- combining in unhurried fashion to walk the team past the target, with a 52 run unbeaten partnership at a sedate 3.9
MS Dhoni has said that India's strength is batting, and that the unit feels more comfortable chasing targets rather than setting them.

Since that statement, the Indians have played two lesser-rated sides. And the assessment that sticks in the mind is that of former skipper Sourav Ganguly, who in course of a commentary stint today said, "I know Dhoni prefers to chase, but the Indian team has looked far more assured batting first than chasing."

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