Indians lift their performance to a new level at the right time

Indians lift their performance to a new level at the right time

When MS Dhoni and company left Indian shores for their World T20 campaign, they weren’t the favourites of many an expert to win the tournament. And that pessimism wasn’t the by-product of usual cynicism.

In the run-up to the biennial event, they had managed just two wins in 11 completed limited-overs internationals – against Bangladesh and Afghanistan in the Asia Cup – between December 5 last year and March 5. Sandwiched between their last win at home against West Indies in Kanpur in November last and Afghanistan here earlier this month in ODIs were defeats in eight one-day internationals across three continents.

No doubt, their batsmen were under fire but it was the bowling unit that was held the major culprit for India’s series of debacles. Normally measured in both criticism and praise of his team-mates, even Dhoni had lost his top during the New Zealand series after they lost the fourth one-dayer in Hamilton.  “When it comes to the talent part, we definitely have bowlers who can bowl well but at the same time, they will have to start using their brains more and improvise themselves on what needs to be done,” he had rebuked.

The bowlers came under further scrutiny when they failed to defend competitive totals against Pakistan and Sri Lanka in tight chases in the Asia Cup and as such weren’t given much chance of success in the shortest format. If anything, it was the batsmen who were expected to deliver things for them. Deliver they have but with no little help from the bowlers – spinners and seamers alike -- who have atoned for their past mistakes.

In the two matches in Group 2, India’s batsmen have had to chase just 131 (against Pakistan) and 130 (against West Indies), accomplishing those targets with some measure of comfort. However, that India are now just one win away from virtually sealing their place in the semifinal is largely because of the excellent work of their much-maligned bowlers. The pitches here at the Sher-e-Bangla National stadium have been helpful but to restrict two of the most explosive batting line-ups to such low totals, you need more than just ideal bowling conditions.

Each of the five specialist bowlers brings something unique to the table, offering Dhoni different options. The inclusion of leg-spinner Amit Mishra, the man of the match in both matches, has nicely complemented off-spinner R Ashwin and left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja. Mishra, with the backing of his skipper, has assumed the role of an attacking bowler that has blessed him with great success while Ashwin has given little away, mixing his variations quite effectively. Though he went for a few against West Indies, Jadeja, not a big turner of the ball, has provided crucial breakthroughs.  

Dhoni naturally is impressed with his spinners. “As far as the bowling is concerned, I am really happy to see how the spinners are bowling,” he said after the win over West Indies. “Yes there is a bit of help for them but at the same time, you have to execute your plans well, especially in this format. You have got some of the big hitters in the opposition that you will have to carefully plan out (against) and innovate at times. So I was really happy that our spinners so far, along with part-timers and fast bowlers, have done really well,” he remarked.

They may not have taken many wickets but Mohammad Shami and in particular Bhuvneshwar Kumar have stuck to their strengths. Shami has troubled the batsmen with his pace while Bhuvneshwar has made up for lack of speed with movement. His spell against West Indies (3-0-3-0) that kept Chris Gayle and Dwayne Smith, perhaps the most destructive opening pair in T20, quiet was an illustration of high quality swing bowling.

“What is important for him is to use the new ball well,” said Dhoni of Bhuvneshwar. “He has to make sure that he does not give away too many loose deliveries. The batsmen have to go after him to play the big shots and that will be like a winner for him. Today (Sunday) there was a bit of help and he made sure he was bowling in the right areas. That is how he will contribute throughout; whenever there is a bit of help he should make sure he is bowling in the right areas,” he reasoned.

The challenge, however, is to maintain the same intensity through the rest of the tournament and not necessarily in helpful conditions.

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