Even as India stoically rode their luck to smother South Africa in their opening league encounter, it became obvious that they would need to tweak their approach before the Australia game.
Of course, it would be unfair to credit luck for the win. But there is no getting away from the fact that fortune favoured the team at crucial stages — including South Africa opting to bat first on a dicey track — and India’s players were good enough to grab every opportunity with both hands.
Importantly, the hard-fought win would have settled nerves nicely and got the team to look forward to the upcoming match with much anticipation. Additionally, Australia’s come-from-behind win over the West Indies would have also given a fair indication of their strengths and weakness and thus prepared the Indian team better.
Anyone watching South Africa’s bowling against India would have quickly realised that the Proteas were desperately short of a third frontline fast bowler. They seemed to have run out of steam and ideas as soon as Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris were off the firing line.
It also became apparent that their line of attack to Indian skipper and world’s best batsman, Virat Kohli, was so ideal that it might well become the template for other teams.
South Africa’s pacers kept at him on a line beyond his third and fourth stumps. They had slips and gully fielders to support this line of attack and Kohli edged a couple of deliveries safely before succumbing rather cheaply. He will be repeatedly tested in that corridor of uncertainty where his propensity to reach out is fraught with danger. But like all great players, he will hopefully find a way out.
Another aspect that has become glaringly evident in this edition of the World Cup is that the white ball does swing and seam at the start of an innings. Kiwi pacer Trent Boult believes that extra gloss is responsible for this unexpected swing and he might well be right.
This puts India’s openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan under pressure. Rohit’s superb century would have put him in the right frame of mind for tougher battles. However, Dhawan and he would need to dig deep to see off the new ball challenge, especially against an Aussie attack that has done very well thus far. The longer India’s opening batsmen hang in there, the better it would be for the side.
It is also apparent that fast bowlers have relied almost excessively on back-of-good-length bowling with the older ball. In fact, most of the matches have seen a liberal sprinkling of short-pitched deliveries where a batsman’s ability to play off the backfoot is constantly tested.
India’s top four batsmen, Rohit, Dhawan, Kohli, and KL Rahul need to bat as long as possible while picking up singles and twos regularly. Extravagant strokeplay, as exhibited on Indian pitches during IPL, would be at a premium, given the vastness of outfields and the evidence of juice in the pitch.
In fact, Australia’s pacers, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Nathan Coulter-Nile have shown how they combine pace, height and aggression to pepper the opposition with well-directed short-pitched deliveries. The manner in which Starc reduced West Indies’ Andre Russell to a bundle of nerves was an eye-opener.
The West Indian who had clobbered bowling attacks in the IPL constantly, back-pedalled against Starc’s short-pitched deliveries. Importantly, Starc and the Aussies ensured that he could not steal a single and get away to the other end. Starc, in fact, sorted him out in just five deliveries.
The trick for India’s top and middle order would be to bat deep and pick up a steady stream of runs in the middle overs, between the 11th and 40th overs. Starc and Cummins would have to be handled with the same sort of caution that Indian batsmen reserved for Rabada and Morris.
The most pleasing aspect of India’s win against South Africa was the impressive bowling of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav in the crucial middle overs. They not only plucked wickets but kept the scoring in check. They would have taken plenty of heart from that performance and although Aussies are better players of spin bowling, they’d still need to be on top of the game if these two wrist-spinners get into their groove.
Kohli would also be thrilled at the way his pace ace Jasprit Bumrah delivered in his World Cup debut match. Bumrah’s pace, disconcerting line and length and swing are top notch and would challenge any batsman. Additionally, with the new quality of white balls conducive to swing bowling, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar could be a handful. Luckily India’s slip fielders had a terrific first match. The pacers would be hoping for more of the same.
Finally, India are in a good place and with a bit of tweaking and ironing out of faults in both batting and bowling, they could give the strong Aussie team a run for their money.