Indians hope for a divine hand

Indians hope for a divine hand

Men in Blues progress in the event depends on the result of the Pakistan-Australia match

Even that, truth to tell, might not suffice for India to avoid elimination for the second time in as many ICC 50-over competitions. After their disastrous campaign at the World Cup in the West Indies two and a half years back, India stand perilously close to another early exit, this time from the Champions Trophy, unless an extraordinary sequence of events unfolds across Centurion and Johannesburg.

That India play the last league match of the competition at the Wanderers here, against a West Indian side that has suffered due to its obvious lack of experience, will count for nothing if Pakistan don’t put it across defending champions Australia in Centurion in a day game.

Anything less than an Australian defeat will usher India out. Even if Pakistan do India a favour, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side must crush Floyd Reifer’s men for, as things stand, the nett run rate is an overwhelming Aussie ally. Australia enjoy a run rate of +1.000 against India’s -1.08. That will necessitate Australia to lose badly and India to win massively in their respective contests, which is no guarantee and particularly given the dodgy weather of the last couple of days.

Whether the wash-out at SuperSport Park on Centurion against the Aussies was a point lost or a point gained is open to debate. At 234 for four in 42.3 overs, the holders were primed to kick on towards a total in the region of 300 which, on the evidence of the results in this tournament, would have taken some getting. Especially on a two-paced surface, India would have had to bat exceptionally well under extreme pressure to pick up the two points had the match gone the distance.

All that, though, is completely irrelevant at this point. What is certain is that two of the world’s top three teams will not make the semifinals of the Champions Trophy – one of India or Australia will join hosts South Africa on the sidelines – in a stunning reversal of the formbook. Dhoni knows that India can ill-afford to go into Wednesday’s game brooding over the uncontrollables. India must focus on what they must do even if they will know their fate halfway through their match; what India must do is re-assert themselves as a limited-overs power on the world stage.

For that to transpire, the bowling has to rise above its ordinary recent self. On a Wanderers surface remarkably different from Centurion, where India played their two previous games, the think-tank will be tempted to revisit its five-bowler strategy, though more than the numbers, it is the personnel that are the obvious causes for concern.

Ishant Sharma is fairly close to being a bundle of nerves, unrecognisable as the exuberant tearaway who terrorised the likes of Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke not so long back. His confidence at an all-time low, the 21-year-old will only benefit from time away from the game, sorting out his mind, his wrist and his approach, crucial factors that have undermined his growth of late.

Harbhajan Singh too has been a disappointment, though for Dhoni to embrace the Sangakkara school of thinking and leave out his star offie like the Lankan captain did with Muttiah Muralitharan against New Zealand might both be far-fetched and knee-jerk. Dhoni did make it clear that the happenings in Centurion till the toss here will influence the final team combination.

In their two previous fixtures, the West Indies have managed to run Pakistan and Australia respectively close for close to 50 percent of each innings before allowing the game and the opposition to run away from them. India will not take the Caribbeans lightly, not with pride, if nothing else, at stake; any complacency will be an open invitation to disaster.