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Bowlers have been India's biggest plus

By Barry Richards
March 15, 2003 19:13 IST
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The two games today, as well as the two semi-finals next week, seem to be incidental as the entire cricket world readies itself for an India-Australia final. This is not ideal for a tournament, since the Super Sixes were supposed to be an exciting link between the league and the knock-out phase. Enough has been said about the forfeitures and other externals that decided the final six, and now I for one am pretty glad that these dead games have come to an end.

Kenya have made it to the semi-finals, after winning one game in the Super Sixes. Everyone loves an underdog, and all the cricketing nations have rushed to embrace the new babes of international cricket. But there are some hard facts that have to be recognized. The Kenyans are still a side that is pretty short on quality. They were gifted four crucial points, and that is why they are here. There is no comparison between them and South Korea in the Soccer World Cup, because the latter earned every point that saw them through to the semis. All this has made the World Cup a pretty hollow affair, and the next time round organizers will have to ensure that every game is played and every team feels safe enough about all the venues.

The one team that deserves all the luck it has had is India. I'm really impressed with the way they are bowling and fielding. In fact, the bowlers have been the single biggest plus for the team in this tournament. They are now in a situation where they are more certain of a place in the final than the formidable Australians.

The latter still have some distance to go, and I'm sure they are worried about the possibility of having to meet Sri Lanka. True, Sri Lanka's batting looks really thin with the likes of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumara Sangakkara just not being able to fire in the middle overs. However, they have some really dangerous bowlers in Chaminda Vaas, Muthaih Muralitharan and the joker in the pack, Aravinda de Silva. The latter has been a huge bonus for the Lankans because Murali hates to bowl within the 15 overs. Invariably, one of the opening bowlers are hit around the park, and Sanath now has the option of bringing in a spinner to take the pace off the ball. In fact, should they make it to the semi-finals, that is one area that the Lankans will focus on. In Port Elizabeth, the Australians will be under great pressure if pace is taken off the ball. They have struggled against England and New Zealand there, and Sri Lanka might just have the kind of bowling to trouble their batsmen once again at that venue.

The Indians, as I mentioned, cannot be faulted for starting to plan for the final. The only area that a change could be made in at this stage, is the batting position of Sourav Ganguly. I know that the captain is a superstitious man who is loathe to change anything lest the winning chain is broken, but I think he should come in at five or six so that he can really maximize on the fifth and sixth bowlers' overs without having to face the threat of Lee and McGrath.

Against Australia, if India lose an early wicket, chances are they will lose another one quickly since Ganguly is yet to come to grips with the fast, rising delivery. Rahul Dravid, on the other hand, is the perfect foil for either of the openers. He is a run accumulator and likes to have someone else to play the big shots while he adds on the ones and twos. Against the Kiwis, Kaif was the star of the day, because he did not get bogged down by Dravid's inability to play big shots. Instead, he took every scoring opportunity to ensure that the scoreboard kept ticking while Dravid concentrated on keeping one end up. Kaif has had little to do in this World Cup, yet he was able to come and deliver the goods when his team was in trouble. All this augurs well for the Indians, who might just be a week away from the best day of their lives.

(Gameplan)

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Barry Richards