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India's batting boomed, but there were worries in bowling

S. Dinakar

Dhaka: The opening Group ‘B' match against Bangladesh was a mixed bag for India. Its batting boomed, but there were worries in bowling. Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men would have to get their act together ahead of the crunch game against England in Bangalore on February 27.

The bowling will be under scrutiny in the remaining games. If India is to recreate the magic of ‘83, its attack will have to sting. Teams with weak links in the bowling department are bound to be exposed in the knock-out phase.

Shift in strategy

There is bound to be a shift in the Indian bowling strategy against England at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. Leg-spinner Piyush Chawla, in all probability, will replace the erratic Santhakumaran Sreesanth.

Carried away by the occasion and trying too hard, Sreesanth let himself down at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium on Saturday. The nature of the surface demanded control, not extra pace.

From an Indian perspective, it is important to maintain the pressure from both the ends. The experienced Zaheer Khan, displaying a welcome return to fitness, impressed with his accuracy and subtle movement.

The quality in the left-armer's bowling, from the rhythmic run-up where the tempo increases gradually, to a smooth release where the transfer of weight is exemplary, is hard to miss. Zaheer uses the crease, harnesses the angles.

However, Zaheer requires solid support at the other end and Sreesanth came up short in the first game. What are the other options for India?

India is likely to open its attack with Zaheer and Munaf Patel. The persistent Munaf is growing in stature. He is now a well-oiled bowling machine with a wonderful sense of the right length to bowl to different batsmen in differing conditions.

Where Sreesanth faltered, Munaf impressed. The lanky Munaf's length is such that it is not easy for the batsman to drive him. His back-of-a-length deliveries around off-stump mean that the batsmen cannot drive him comfortably off the front foot, nor do they have the room to rock back and punch the paceman.

Munaf also delivers close to the off-stump, denying the batsman the opportunity to cut or pull him. He has matured; comprehends the situations better.

Lack of options

Given the cloud over Aashish Nehra's fitness, India does not have too many options for the third paceman's slot. The side should, instead, play to its strengths and field a second specialist spinner against England in what could be a pitch assisting spin.

The two-paceman ploy, though, always carries a danger. The risk of one of the seamers getting injured cannot be overlooked. There are also chances that either Zaheer or Munaf might have an ordinary day.

In this context, it might not be a bad ploy to have Harbhajan sharing the new ball in certain conditions.

There have been occasions when the off-spinner has come on early in the innings and bowled in a telling fashion by using the seam well. And spinners too relish the hardness on the ball.

The move might also give the captain greater flexibility in managing his overs. For instance, he could bring in Zaheer for a couple of overs in the middle phase to break the batsmen's rhythm.

While much has been written about the Indian batting — it is a formidable force in these conditions — the winning team is likely to possess the best bowling unit.

Competition

This is a competition where Zaheer and Harbhajan might hold the key to the Indian performances.

Munaf is shaping up well, but India cannot afford to be loose in the remaining 20 overs. Yusuf Pathan and Yuvraj Singh are chipping in, but the attack loses the element of threat when they come on. A team under pressure can milk the bowling and script a recovery.

As the knock-out phase approaches, India might re-think the seven batsmen theory. The side might desperately need an additional bowler.

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