Mission World Cup begins

Rain a big threat as favourites India take on West Indies in the first match today

Mission World Cup begins

 The modernization of Kochi hits your eyes while taking a trip round this port city. Wide roads, a slew of fly-overs, dazzling sky scrappers and a fast developing metro project tell its effort to connect to the contemporaneousness.

Once no more than a vague pastime, cricket too is getting a part of this new culture. The Kerala Cricket Association has taken the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, venue of India’s first one-dayer against the West Indies on Wednesday, for a 30-year lease from the government authorities, hoping to transform it into a Test centre.

 In this fledgling, ambitious city, Indian cricketers will have to take their first step towards the World Cup. This will be the first of at least nine one-day international ties India will play before their first match in the quadrennial extravaganza jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand in February next year.

The match, though, faces a rain threat.

In these matches, India have the task of finding the right combination and ironing out some obvious chinks. They need to start that process on the morrow against a potentially dangerous West Indian side.

Of course, the Caribbean team, without belittling the likes of Dwayne Bravo, Marlon Samuels and Kieron Pollard, doesn’t have the ammunition to challenge this Indian team. The visitors’ struggle in the two warm-up matches in Mumbai foretells a yawn-inducing lop-sided series – be it limited overs or the Tests.

 But they shouldn’t allow that seemingly easy nature of the contest affect their focus or intensity. As a World Cup-bound team – mind it that they are the defending champions – India would have multiple areas to scrutinise. But none assumes more significance than their death over bowling.

With Zaheer Khan’s availability still shrouded in uncertainty, India have not exactly found a replacement for the veteran left-arm pacer. They have tried various bowlers such as Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron in that important role since Zaheer had limped out of the scene. There were patches when they exuded promise and evoked confidence but failed to do so consistently.

Grave situation

Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni admitted the graveness of the situation. “If it was so easy to address, we would have done so by now. But it’s a genuine concern for us. The death bowling, with the extra fielder being inside it’s become tougher for the bowlers. We have to get the execution rate up.

“We don’t have too many pacers who bowl quick and are consistent with line and length. I know pace is a blessing, but at the same time, if you have control over it, then it’s a bit more of a blessing. If you don’t bowl too quick and you stray in line, it maybe easy to cash in. Good death bowlers, irrespective of which team, one thing that’s common is yorkers, and they mix it up with length balls or slower deliveries.

“Shami is the one who has consistently bowled yorkers for us in the death. You may have a few variations, but it’s important to have the yorker up your sleeve. We are working really hard on it, and we have seen improvement. We are hoping in the coming games, we’ll get it sorted and head in to the World Cup with good death bowlers,” said Dhoni.

The inclusion of Kuldeep Yadav, the chinaman bowler, too should be viewed in the light of Indian team management’s effort to experiment with as many options as possible and leave the shores with the best possible bowling unit. Yadav will be competing with Amit Mishra for the second spinner’s position as Ravindra Jadeja is certain to be the primary spinner as R Ashwin was offered some much-needed rest.

Indians also would have to address the issue of finding a settled opening combination with an efficient back up to fall back upon in times of emergency.

Ironically, Rohit Sharma’s finger injury has opened up a rather unexpected avenue for them. In the recent one-dayers against England, India papered the absence of Rohit by promoting Ajinkya Rahane as opener.

However, India has drafted in M Vijay for this series, indicating that the Tamil Nadu man is in contention for the third opener’s slot.

So, it will be fascinating to watch Indians trying to discover answers for these questions without compromising on the short-term goal of winning the five-match one-day series against the West Indies.

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