India’s early steps were mixed but have been dealt with. The opener against Australia was tricky. The second outing against Afghanistan was smooth. And the twin victories augur well as the Men in Blue winged their way to Ahmedabad for Saturday’s much-anticipated clash against Pakistan.
The venues were as diverse as they come. Chennai with its slow turf and sweaty heat, and Delhi with its batting track and good bounce, have been accounted for while a contest vested with historical angst and extreme hype awaits Rohit Sharma’s men.
Against Afghanistan, a few boxes got ticked. While Jasprit Bumrah’s four for 39 and Rohit’s 131 headlined the eight-wicket win, there were other micro-positives. Ishan Kishan dropped anchor and refused to be carried away by Rohit’s splendid batsmanship. At times it is easy to imbibe the vibe from the other end but Kishan preferred to bide his time before playing a few shots in his 47.
The same approach was exuded by Shreyas Iyer too as he allowed Virat Kohli to flower. The latter’s unbeaten 55 on his home ground, and coming on the heels of his 85 against Australia hints at an Indian batting order striking the right notes. Afghanistan’s 272 for eight may not be a par-score on a surface that its coach Jonathan Trott said as perhaps ‘a 350 plus wicket’, and yet those runs had to be chased down and India did that with remarkable gusto in just 35 overs.
Rohit, dropped from the 2011 World Cup squad, performed well in the subsequent editions in 2015 and 2019, and has started efficiently in the latest championship even if he failed to open his account against Australia. The fluid mayhem he unleashes at the crease is often poetry with a rhetorical flourish. At 36, this is his last World Cup, and it is evident that he wants to finish this tournament on a high, both at a collective and individual level.
Bumrah, meanwhile, showed how critical he is to the Indian team’s fortunes. Coming back from injury is never easy as bruised limbs remember old wounds and muscle-memory tends to be fragile. Yet, the spearhead, who puts enormous pressure on his back due to a short run-up of winnowing steps before the final explosion, has functioned like a high-optimum machine. In the latest World Cup, he prised out a wicket in his first spell, before coming back for more.
There has been conflicting discourse around Shardul Thakur stepping in for R. Ashwin. In a ‘horses for courses’ policy, perhaps the Delhi surface demanded an extra seamer. As for Thakur being preferred over Mohammed Shami, that choice may have leant on the additional batting skill he brings to the table. Shami, surely will get his berth. With Mohammed Siraj being off-colour on Wednesday, the management does have a tiny headache to resolve but within the larger picture, India seems to be getting its canvas right even if it is still early days for the paint to dry.
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