Bowling larder bare

The victorious Indian team.-PICS: S. SUBRAMANIUM

Although India was without two of its principal bowlers — Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh — in the series, the warning signs are clear. The message that came across strongly was, clear the mess in bowling or face another shattered dream in the World Cup, writes S. Dinakar.

Sachin Tendulkar’s epic innings at the Roop Singh Stadium should not be allowed to mask some serious bowling concerns for India ahead of the 2011 World Cup in the sub-continent. The Indian bowling wilted at the death; the bowlers were unable to contain or strike. The host took the series 2-1, essentially on the strength of its powerful batting.

Although India was without two of its principal bowlers in the series — Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh — the warning signs are clear. The message that came across strongly was — clear the mess in bowling or face another shattered dream in the World Cup.

India was without Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh as well in the series, but the results clearly indicated that the side had greater depth and bench strength in batting, especially in familiar conditions. It is the bowling that needs to be set right.

India should have won by a mile in the first ODI in Jaipur, but the bowling came apart in the final stretch. Eventually the host squeezed home by one run in a thrilling finish after the ninth wicket pair of Wayne Parnell and Dale Steyn added 65 hectic runs to give India a scare.

The South Africans were blown away by the Tendulkar blitz in Gwalior as the Indian legend broke the 200-run barrier in ODIs. There was little chance of South Africa surpassing India’s 401, particularly after the ball kept a shade low in the second half of the match.

The visitors, having gone down in the series, pulled one back in Ahmedabad after India fielded a largely experimental side. The flamboyant Abraham de Villiers notched up a second successive century in the series. Stand-in captain Jacques Kallis — the injured Graeme Smith did not take part in the ODI stretch of the tour — batted and bowled with skill and heart.

Back to the Indian bowling, rather the pace bowling department. While bowling in the end overs of an innings in the one-dayers in the sub-continent can be hazardous, the Indian pacemen could have displayed better control.

Clever changes of pace and length — the slower ball has to be well disguised and the batsmen should not be able to predict the delivery’s length — are crucial but a paceman cannot afford to be erratic with his line. The bowling has to be around the off-stump and drifting down the leg stump can have disastrous consequences.

Well-directed yorkers, the occasional short-pitched delivery to prevent the batsman from getting on to the front foot, and the old-fashioned off-cutter — the ball has to seam in from outside the off-stump — have to be mastered by the pacemen in this phase since the away going ball can so easily be edged or slashed to the fence.

This said, reverse swing is less of a factor in the ODI these days after the mandatory change of the ball following the 34th over. A team, thus, cannot really ‘work’ on the ball to make one side rough and keep the other shiny. A harder ball, in the final phase of the innings, also travels quickly off the willow.

Ashish Nehra and S. Sreesanth were taken for runs at the death at Jaipur’s Sawai Man Singh Stadium. Both were guilty of being erratic with their line.

The team-management also needs to rethink its bowling strategy. For instance, if Sreesanth is picked, he has to be essentially used as a new ball bowler since he possesses a telling outswinger; he does have a wonderful wrist and seam position.

It is essential that a team plays a cricketer to his strengths. The point is if you do not bowl an outswing bowler with the new ball — when a captain can afford a slip or two — when will you bowl him?

Sreesanth operated with the new ball in the final ODI in Ahmedabad and went for runs but the selectors and the think-tank would have to look beyond one game and one performance. An attacking bowler such as Sreesanth needs to be backed and given a run in a specific role; he has to bowl with the new ball.

Praveen Kumar, a natural swing bowler, could bowl first change and send down a majority of his overs towards the end since he, arguably, is India’s best bowler at the death. Praveen alters his pace and length in a canny fashion and can move the old ball.

Abraham de Villiers... back-to-back hundreds.-

Of course, the Indian pace attack would be strengthened when Zaheer returns. A return to form of the lanky Ishant Sharma would also help.

The young Abhimanyu Mithun made his debut in Ahmedabad, but India needs to groom this talented paceman gradually for Test cricket rather than push him into the turbulent world of ODI cricket. Sudip Tyagi, who can work up some pace and extract bounce, is still a work in progress.

The Indian attack suffered as Kallis and de Villiers cut loose in Ahmedabad. The host conceded a whopping 122 in the final 10 overs. And 78 of these runs were rattled up in the final five overs.

Perhaps, India can have a spin bowler operating from one end in the final overs. The batsmen might not be able to settle into a rhythm.

Ravindra Jadeja’s left-arm spin was impressive; his bowling was definitely among the positives for India from the series. Jadeja was consistent with his length — critical for a spinner — and spun the ball away from the right-hander. Yet, when the batsmen shaped for a cut, he surprised them with a potent arm-ball. His Man-of-the-Match-winning two for 29 in 10 overs in Jaipur was arguably the finest bowling display of the series. Jadeja appears to have a good temperament and revels in pressure situations. He is also a livewire on the field and a handy batsman.

Yusuf Pathan showed glimpses of his power-hitting and seems to be improving as an off-spinner. He can be crucial to the team’s prospects at the time of the batting power play. It remains to be seen how he is fitted into the XI once Harbhajan returns.

Dinesh Karthik, always a combative cricketer, had his moments in the series. Sent one-down and given responsibility by the team management, Karthik notched up a near half century in Jaipur and came up with an attacking 79 in Gwalior. Much of his front-footed cover-driving was impeccable, he cut and pulled well and moved right back for the big-hits over the mid-wicket region. He missed out on a century though.

Suresh Raina, during his impressive 58 in the first ODI, dealt better with the short-pitched deliveries when the South Africans bounced at him. The left-hander has an impressive range of strokes.

Ravindra Jadeja being congratulated by Suresh Raina and Dinesh Karthik in Jaipur. Jadeja was the Man of the Match for a superb spell of two for 29.-

Skipper Dhoni maintained his composure to collect a rather wayward throw from Sreesanth from third man and whip off the bails quickly when Parnell scampered for a second run that would have enabled South Africa tie the game in Jaipur.

Dhoni is a street-smart cricketer. And an immensely powerful one too. His blistering unbeaten 35-ball 68 in the Gwalior ODI was an effort of mighty strokeplay. The manner in which he used his powerful wrist to strike a full length ball from outside the off-stump over the long-off fence was stunning. This stroke is high on the scale of difficulty.

For the South Africans, the series was a disappointment. The pacemen, Dale Steyn included, were less of a threat in the abbreviated form of the game, in the sub-continental conditions.

Steyn sent down a terrific spell in Ahmedabad, but the series had already been decided by then. The much-hyped Parnell was a disappointment, while Morne Morkel, always a handful, was not utilised properly.

The in-form Hashim Amla, for baffling reasons, was left out of the first ODI. He played a cameo in Gwalior and notched up a near-hundred in Ahmedabad. Amla is such a fluent and elegant striker of the ball.

The fleet-footed de Villiers was the batting star for South Africa. His efforts of 114 not out (Gwalior) and 104 not out (Ahmedabad) were splendid, strokeful knocks. His 58-ball hundred in Ahmedabad was the seventh quickest in ODIs.

The punishing Loots Bosman was a useful addition to the side, while Herschelle Gibbs disappointed.

South Africa will have to get its spin combination right before the World Cup. Johan Botha, his doosra under the scanner, is not much of a threat.

The crowds flocked to the matches. Some wrote a rather premature death for the ODIs. One-day cricket is alive and kicking.

THE SCORES

First ODI, Jaipur, February 21. India won by one run.

India: V. Sehwag (run out) 46; S. Tendulkar (run out) 4; D. Karthik c Petersen b Langeveldt 44; M. Dhoni c Morkel b Kallis 26; V. Kohli c Gibbs b Morkel 31; S. Raina c Boucher b Kallis 58; Y. Pathan c Kallis b Parnell 18; R. Jadeja c Boucher b Kallis 22; P. Kumar (run out) 13; A. Nehra (not out) 16; S. Sreesanth (not out) 0; Extras (lb-7, w-13) 20. Total (for nine wkts., in 50 overs) 298.

Fall of wickets: 1-10, 2-89, 3-116, 4-138, 5-204, 6-231, 7-260, 8-274, 9-292.

South Africa bowling: Steyn 10-1-46-0; Parnell 9-0-69-1; Langeveldt 10-0-48-1; A. Morkel 8-0-59-1; Botha 6-0-40-0; Kallis 7-0-29-3.

South Africa: L. Bosman b Praveen 29; H. Gibbs c Kohli b Jadeja 27; J. Kallis b Sreesanth 89; A. de Villiers b Jadeja 25; A. Petersen (run out) 9; A. Morkel lbw b Nehra 2; M. Boucher c Dhoni b Sreesanth 5; J. Botha lbw b Pathan 10; W. Parnell (run out) 49; D. Steyn b Praveen 35; C. Langeveldt (not out) 4; Extras (b-1, lb-4, w-8) 13. Total (in 50 overs) 297.

Fall of wickets: 1-58, 2-64, 3-109, 4-134, 5-142, 6-161, 7-180, 8-225, 9-290.

India bowling: Praveen 8-0-46-2; Nehra 10-0-67-1; Sreesanth 9-1-74-2; Jadeja 10-2-29-2; Pathan 10-0-51-1; Raina 3-0-25-0.

Second ODI, Gwalior, February 24. India won by 153 runs.

India: V. Sehwag c Steyn b Parnell 9; S. Tendulkar (not out) 200; D. Karthik c Gibbs b Parnell 79; Y. Pathan c De Villiers b Van der Merwe 36; M. Dhoni (not out) 68; Extras (lb-3, w-5, nb-1) 9. Total (for three wkts., in 50 overs) 401.

Fall of wickets: 1-25, 2-219, 3-300.

South Africa bowling: Steyn 10-0-89-0; Parnell 10-0-95-2; Van der Merwe 10-0-62-1; Langeveldt 10-0-70-0; Duminy 5-0-38-0; Kallis 5-0-44-0.

South Africa: H. Amla c Nehra b Sreesanth 34; H. Gibbs b Praveen 7; R. van der Merwe c Raina b Sreesanth 12; J. Kallis b Nehra 11; A. de Villiers (not out) 114; A. Petersen b Jadeja 9; J. Duminy lbw b Pathan 0; M. Boucher lbw b Pathan 14; W. Parnell b Nehra 18; D. Steyn b Sreesanth 0; C. Langeveldt c Nehra b Jadeja 12; Extras (lb-5, w-8, nb-4) 17. Total (in 42.5 overs) 248.

Fall of wickets: 1-17, 2-47, 3-61, 4-83, 5-102, 6-103, 7-134, 8-211, 9-216.

India bowling: Praveen 5-0-31-1; Nehra 8-0-60-2; Sreesanth 7-0-49-3; Jadeja 8.5-0-41-2; Pathan 9-1-37-2; Sehwag 5-0-25-0.

Third ODI, Ahmedabad, February 27. South Africa won by 90 runs.

South Africa: L. Bosman c Jadeja b Pathan 68; H. Amla c Vijay b Jadeja 87; J. Kallis (not out) 104; A. de Villiers (not out) 102; Extras (lb-2, nb-2) 4. Total (for two wkts., in 50 overs) 365.

Fall of wickets: 1-113, 2-192.

India bowling: Sreesanth 9-0-83-0; Tyagi 8-0-59-0; Mithun 8-0-63-0; Jadeja 10-0-53-1; Pathan 10-0-66-1; Kohli 2-0-11-0; Sharma 3-0-28-0.

India: D. Karthik c Amla b Steyn 11; M. Vijay c Boucher b Tsotsobe 25; V. Kohli c Boucher b Steyn 57; R. Sharma c Tsotsobe b Botha 48; M. Dhoni c Boucher b Steyn 9; S. Raina c (sub) b Botha 49; Y. Pathan c Steyn b Tsotsobe 5; R. Jadeja c Boucher b Tsotsobe 36; S. Sreesanth lbw b Van der Merwe 1; A. Mithun st. Boucher b Van der Merwe 24; S. Tyagi (not out) 1; Extras (lb-5, w-4) 9. Total (in 44.3 overs) 275.

Fall of wickets: 1-22, 2-40, 3-135, 4-156, 5-157, 6-179, 7-233, 8-237, 9-273.

South Africa bowling: Steyn 8-1-37-3; Tsotsobe 9.3-0-58-3; M. Morkel 7-0-48-0; Van der Merwe 10-0-47-2; Botha 10-0-80-2.