It's perform or pack-off time

Low-on-confidence India must beat New Zealand to make it to Saturdays final

It's perform or pack-off time

Seldom, though, have they carried such poor batting form into a match as significant as this as they will into Wednesday’s virtual semifinal against New Zealand at the Rangiri Dambulla International stadium. Victory for either side will mean a shot at Sri Lanka in Saturday’s title clash; defeat will mean an early flight home. No bonus points, no eye on the nett run rate, as simple as that.

A wash-out will usher India out and put Ross Taylor’s men in the final, but that’s something Mahendra Singh Dhoni can ill-afford to contemplate, given that that is not in his control. What is, is how the Indians execute their skills; on the evidence of the fare they have dished out thus far, that has been little more than ordinary.

India are quickly beginning to resemble a one-man army, even if that is far from the truth. The wealth of batting riches in the middle-order has struggled to cope with the swinging, seaming, bouncing ball in conditions that have helped the bowlers, India’s only meaningful batting performance owing itself entirely to Virender Sehwag’s exceptional brilliance.

Just how well, and quickly, India pick themselves up from the humiliation of being rolled over for 103 on Sunday by Sri Lanka will determine how they shape their destiny, which lies in their own hands. Three of the four completed matches in this tournament have been won by the side chasing by force, and therefore whilst batting under lights is still considered a more difficult option, the toss isn’t by any means the decisive factor anymore at Dambulla.

India can’t expect Sehwag to bail them out of trouble time after time. The explosive vice-captain has showcased his versatility and awareness by respecting the bowling and the conditions early on before exploding with his frenzied stroke-making, an example his team-mates have steadfastly refused to emulate.

Difficult conditions

Barring Dinesh Kaarthick, Sehwag’s opening partner – the top two have had to face the most difficult batting conditions with the ball swinging liberally and nipping around sharply off the track – India’s batting has been characterised by profligacy and carelessness.

Little allowance has been made for the moving ball; shots have been played early in the innings, fatally, with no deference either to the quality of the bowling or the assistance the bowlers have been getting, which totally explains team scores of 88 and 103 in two debilitating defeats.

The application Yuvraj Singh showed in the defeat to Sri Lanka on Sunday is precisely the inspiration the likes of Suresh Raina, who has tapered off after his heroics in the Tests, and Rohit Sharma, in the middle of another horror patch but all set to retain his place, must draw from if India aren’t to keel over yet again against a New Zealand team that crushed them by 200 runs in the tournament opener.

The Kiwis haven’t batted in a match in ten days – their last full game was on August 13, and they didn’t get to bat in the washed out game against New Zealand on August 19 – and that’s an area India will look to exploit.

There is a touch of brittleness to the Kiwi batting that places great demands on Taylor and Scott Styris, but New Zealand seldom lose the battle in the mind. They must be subdued, because they never take a backward step, their competitive instincts never left behind in the changing room.

All to play for, then, with a place in the final the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It will be as much about skill as nerve, character and discipline.

Teams (from):

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Dinesh Kaarthick, Virender Sehwag, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Ravindra Jadeja, Praveen Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Ishant Sharma, Pragyan Ojha, Virat Kohli, R Ashwin, Abhimanyu Mithun, Munaf Patel, Saurabh Tiwary.

New Zealand: Ross Taylor (capt), BJ Watling, Peter Ingram, Martin Guptill, Scott Styris, Grant Elliott, Jacob Oram, Gareth Hopkins, Nathan McCullum, Daryl Tuffey, Kyle Mills, Kane Williamson, Andy McKay, Jeetan Patel, Tim Southee.

Umpires: Asad Rauf (Pakistan) and Asoka de Silva. Third umpire: Kumar Dharmasena.

Match referee: Alan Hurst (Australia).

Hours of play: 1430-1800 hours and 1845-end of play.

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