Batting looks formidable

Batting is India's strength and the middle-order buzzes with players who can assume centre-stage. By S. Dinakar.

India has the team to regain the trophy it last won in the magical summer of 1983. Mahendra Singh Dhoni leads a side with depth and options. The team, not short of men who can alter scripts, has a key commodity for success — BALANCE.

Although the side lacks a genuine all-rounder, it possesses several multi-dimensional cricketers who bring versatility to the unit. This is particularly true in the sub-continental conditions.

India has the strongest top-order in the form of the legendary Sachin Tendulkar, the explosive Virender Sehwag and the dynamic Gautam Gambhir.

Searching for maiden triumph in his sixth World Cup, Tendulkar will be India's inspiration. The ageless Tendulkar still conjures timeless epics.

Sehwag, if he has completely recovered from his fitness concerns, can find the ropes or clear them with the ease of a natural. He provides momentum to the innings, dents the opposition psychologically.

The left-handed Gambhir can change roles, from someone who holds the innings together and rotates the strike with deft touches, to one who can disrupt the rhythm of an attack with calculated spells of aggression.

Batting is the side's strength and the middle-order buzzes with players who can assume centre-stage. Virat Kohli has managed to tighten his game without losing solidity while Yuvraj Singh can blow away attacks with strokes of thunder. Another left-hander, Suresh Raina, is quite formidable in sub-continental conditions. Raina may be preferred instead of Kolhi for a place in the eleven, at least in the early phase of the competition.

The batting has the fire-power to close out games with Dhoni and the sensational Yusuf Pathan arriving at No. 6 and 7. Dhoni is a canny batsman who reads situations well. Yusuf can swing games in a matter of deliveries; his penchant for effortless sixes should make the opposition extremely wary. With the flexible batting Power Play likely to play a huge role in the World Cup, Yusuf will be under sharp focus.

Sehwag, Yuvraj, Dhoni and Yusuf are match-winners in the one-day format. No other team has as many explosive batsmen spread across the line-up. The crafty Zaheer Khan will be the team's strike bowler. This left-arm bowler of control and movement, both in the air and off the seam, can bowl at any stage of an innings. Munaf Patel is a skilful seam customer while experienced left-armer Aashish Nehra is handy at the death with his mix of swinging full length deliveries and short-pitched stuff. Much of India's chances hinge on how the side manages to cope with pressures during end overs.

The injury to Praveen Kumar means India will be without a clever customer with the new ball. However, S. Sreesanth, Praveen's replacement in the squad, provides Dhoni greater flexibility in the management of overs. Quicker than Praveen, Sreesanth can swing the ball away from the right-hander and reverse the older sphere. How close he bowls to the off-stump will be the key.

Harbhajan Singh carries much of the spin hopes. The versatile off-spinner's role, particularly in the middle overs, will be critical. Harbhajan could also find himself bowling at the death in tandem with Nehra. The much-improved back-up off-spinner R. Ashwin is another option. Considering, India is grouped with South Africa, England and the West Indies, the selection of leg-spinner Piyush Chawla makes sense.

Fielding, though, is a cause of concern for India. The side will have to hide some very ordinary fielders. Raina and Kohli are the only two outstanding fielders in the squad and the chances are that only one of them will figure in the eleven.

India faces a potentially tricky opponent in Bangladesh in Dhaka in its opener on February 19. The side will have to exorcise the demons of the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean.

THE SQUAD