September 12, 2009

India on top of the tree


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The manner in which India played against New Zealand in their opening match of the tri series for the Compaq Cup at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo on September 11 there was hardly any element of doubt in them being the number one ODI team of the world at the moment.

I do agree with the Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni that the rankings and ratings are bound to improve when you are on the winning spree. He deserves the credit for having extracted something close to their best from his teammates during the past couple of seasons and India have finally moved on top of the tree as far as the ICC rankings for the One-day Internationals are concerned.

The emphatic victory over New Zealand under floodlights in conditions that were not typical of what one finds in the sub-continent was a near-perfect start for Dhoni and his boys after two months layoff from international cricket.

It would have only been perfect if India had cruised to victory without hiccups while chasing a modest target of 156. They did romp home quite leisurely in the end after being guilty of opening up in the game by losing three wickets in quick succession.

New Zealand must have fancied their chances of claiming an unlikely victory when the trio of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh was sent back in the dressing room within flash of an eye. Mind you they are three of the top batsmen in the game and it’s not often that they follow each other so quickly.

India certainly were in a spot of bother when their fourth wicket fell with more than 70 still needed for victory. Daniel Vettori was living up to the reputation of India-killer and the match had become wide open against the run of play.

Dhoni, as he has done frequently, kept his cool and curbed his attacking natural instincts to construct his innings. Suresh Raina, demoted in the batting order following his failures earlier this year, survived a few anxious moments before opening up.

Dhoni and Raina were happy to see Vettori off. It’s incredible that the Indian batsmen are supposed to be the most proficient in tackling the spinners but time and again they also prove to be the most vulnerable against slow bowling.

Dhoni did concede in the post match presentation ceremony that things could have been more difficult if New Zealand had another quality spinner in their ranks.

Vettori probably didn’t know exactly how much the Indians could suffer at the hands of the spinners, irrespective of their class and guile. He would have been better off accommodating another spinner in place of one of the fast bowlers.

Talking of the fast bowlers, the Indian trio of Ashish Nehra, Ishant Sharma and Rudra Pratap Singh was right on money and there were no escape routes for the Black Caps. The pressure was sustained by the spin duo of Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh who sent New Zealand crashing to 155 all out.

The target of 156 was unlikely to test the supremely confident Indian batters. Sachin Tendulkar’s stroke-play delighted the spectators while Rahul Dravid got the opportunity of spending some time in the middle.

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