Kiwis cannon fodder as World Cup looms large

The triumphant Indian team.-K. PICHUMANI

Gautam Gambhir was certainly pleased with the talent at his disposal in the series. “There is a healthy competition for places in the dressing room and the field of play which is good for the team,” he said. Over to S. Dinakar.

India will face tougher opponents in the World Cup than the dispirited New Zealand side that they took on recently. Yet, a 5-0 sweep of the Kiwis with a virtually second string side will provide the host momentum and confidence ahead of the biggest ODI stage in world cricket.

Significantly, this was India's last series in the sub-continent ahead of the World Cup. And the selectors got closer to picking the Indian side for the mega-event.

Yusuf Pathan certainly nailed his place in the 15-man squad with a game-changing unbeaten 123 in the fourth ODI in Bangalore. India, pursuing a stiff 316, was 108 for four when Yusuf walked in. The lanky stroke-maker pounded the Kiwi attack, first with Rohit Sharma and then with the left-handed Sourabh Tiwari. India was home by five wickets even as the Kiwis lost the plot.

Once the stars return for the World Cup, Yusuf could be the ideal man for the No. 7 slot. He is a stunning striker of the ball who could tilt the scales in the batting power play and the end overs. On the sub-continental tracks, Yusuf is unlikely to be overly troubled by short-pitched stuff or any probing lateral movement from the pacemen. His quicker variety of off-spin could also be useful in the one-dayers. The tall Yusuf delivers from a high-arm action and can surprise the batsmen with bounce.

Yuvraj Singh, under pressure at the beginning of the series, did enough in the matches to ensure his spot in the World Cup squad. The left-hander's innings of 42 (in Guwahati) and 46 not out in Chennai had glimpses of the vintage Yuvraj. He was every bit a natural galloping on his skill when he eased paceman Grant Elliott over the long-off fence at Chepauk. Yuvraj is a confidence player and the selectors and team-mates need to instil belief in him; match-winners should be given more leeway. Yuvraj was the Man of the Match in Chennai.

To his credit, Yuvraj appears fitter, is sharper on the field. His left-arm spin, at least in the one-day arena, lends valuable balance to the team. He is not a big spinner of the ball but is harnessing the angles better. Yuvraj has a handy arm-ball as Elliott discovered in the final ODI.

If India picks Yusuf and Yuvraj in the XI, it does not need to go in for a fifth bowler. With the feisty Virat Kohli too fighting for one of these two slots in the XI, it will not be an easy decision to make for the team-management and the selectors.

Ravichandran Ashwin, hailed by skipper Gautam Gambhir as the find of the series, has virtually clinched his place as the second specialist spinner in the squad. He has a calm mind and a bag of tricks.

Gambhir displayed immense faith in Ashwin by calling upon the off-spinner to bowl in the power play overs and at the death. Ashwin displayed heart for the battle, brought upon variations in trajectory and angles by using the crease, and struck decisive blows. His leg-cutter has proved effective. However, he would be a better bowler if he uses his left-shoulder more before release by pivoting. Presently, his chest-on action makes his carom ball readable.

Yusuf Pathan...fireworks in Bangalore.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

There is stiff competition for berths in the pace bowling department. With his left-armer's angle, swing, cut and control, Zaheer Khan is an automatic choice. S. Sreesanth should be the second name in the list since he is an attacking paceman with a natural outswinger. If he denies the batsmen width by bowling close to off-stump, Sreesanth can be a handful.

Sreesanth's ability to swing the ball in and deliver an effective yorker can enable him strike in the end overs as well. Cricketers who can make a difference can be priceless in the knock-out stages of the World Cup.

Ishant Sharma too falls in this category. His line, bounce and cut when in rhythm make him a compelling paceman. In all likelihood, Praveen Kumar, Ashish Nehra and Munaf Patel will fight for the fourth paceman's slot.

Once again, the selectors have their task cut out. The canny Praveen Kumar can strike with the new ball with two-way movement. Left-armer Nehra has displayed the ability to bowl at the death even if he was taken to the cleaners by a rampaging James Franklin in Bangalore. Munaf Patel can be an ideal support seamer with his off-stump line and cut.

The selectors could choose between a specialist batsman — Rohit Sharma, Sourabh Tiwary or Murali Vijay — or go in with an additional spin option in leggies Piyush Chawla or Amit Mishra. Left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha too is in the frame.

Or, will the wise men opt for a second 'keeper who can bat? Comeback man Parthiv Patel certainly did his cause no harm with successive half-centuries at the top of the order in the last two ODIs. The level of Mahendra Singh Dhoni's fitness entering the World Cup could determine this decision.

Gambhir was certainly pleased with the talent at his disposal in the series. “There is a healthy competition for places in the dressing room and the field of play which is good for the team,” he said.

The left-handed opener led the side capably and walked away with the Man of the Series award for his two centuries and smart captaincy. He kept the team focussed even after it grabbed a winning 3-0 lead.

Little went right for New Zealand apart from Franklin's power-packed blitzkrieg (98 not out) that propelled the Kiwis to a 300-plus total in Bangalore. The batting lacked consistency and there was hardly any sting the bowling.

It was sad to witness a once combative unit collapse for 103 in the final ODI — India romped home by eight wickets — at Chepauk. The Kiwis lacked belief and direction.

Vettori's conscious decision after a back surgery to avoid pivoting has adversely impacted his bowling. He is rolling the ball more than spinning it these days. And the burden of captaincy seems to have affected his batting as well.

Clearly the Kiwi experiment to have Vettori as captain and a member with a vote in the selection panel is not working.

THE SCORES

Fifth ODI, Chennai, December 10, 2010. India won by eight wickets.

New Zealand: M. Guptill c Parthiv b Praveen 0; B. McCullum lbw b Nehra 14; J. How b Yuvraj 23; R. Taylor c Parthiv b Nehra 9; S. Styris lbw b Ashwin 24; J. Franklin (not out) 17; G. Elliott lbw b Yuvraj 0; D. Vettori c Yuvraj b Pathan 9; N. McCullum c Yuvraj b Pathan 1; K. Mills c Tiwary b Ashwin 4; T. Southee c Rohit b Ashwin 0; Extras (w-2) 2. Total (in 27 overs): 103.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-14, 3-28, 4-71, 5-73, 6-74, 7-90, 8-98, 9-103.

India bowling: Praveen 6-1-20-1; Nehra 5-0-34-2; Munaf 3-0-9-0; Ashwin 8-1-24-3; Yuvraj 2-0-5-2; Pathan 3-0-11-2.

India: G. Gambhir c B. McCullum b N. McCullum 0; Parthiv Patel (not out) 56; V. Kohli c Taylor b Vettori 2; Yuvraj Singh (not out) 42; Extras (lb-2, w-5) 7. Total (for two wkts., in 21.1 overs) 107.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-10.

New Zealand bowling: N. McCullum 6-1-26-1; Vettori 6-0-30-1; Styris 4-0-7-0; Mills 1-0-15-0; Elliott 4.1-0-27-0.

Fourth ODI, Bangalore, December 7, 2010. India won by five wickets.

New Zealand: M. Guptill c Yuvraj b Nehra 30; B. McCullum c Rohit b Ashwin 42; J. How c Pathan b Nehra 4; R. Taylor lbw b Ashwin 44; S. Styris c Tiwary b Pathan 46; J. Franklin (not out) 98; D. Vettori b Pathan 17; K. Mills b Pathan 1; N. McCullum (not out) 13; Extras (lb-8, w-12) 20. Total (for seven wkts., in 50 overs) 315.

Fall of wickets: 1-62, 2-70, 3-91, 4-170, 5-210, 6-249, 7-251.

India bowling: Zaheer 8-0-40-0; Praveen 7-0-42-0; Ashwin 10-0-66-2; Nehra 9-1-70-2; Yuvraj 3-0-21-0; Pathan 9-0-49-3; Rohit 4-0-19-0.

India: G. Gambhir c Guptill b McKay 27; Parthiv Patel c sub b N. McCullum 53; V. Kohli c Mills b McKay 0; Yuvraj Singh c How b N. McCullum 20; Rohit Sharma c Vettori b Southee 44; Y. Pathan (not out) 123; S. Tiwary (not out) 37; Extras (b-4, lb-3, w-8, nb-2) 17. Total (for five wkts., in 48.5 overs) 321.

Fall of wickets: 1-67, 2-68, 3-103, 4-108, 5-188.

New Zealand bowling: Mills 10-1-65-0; Southee 10-0-64-1; McKay 7-0-63-2; N. McCullum 7.5-0-38-2; Styris 4-1-27-0; Vettori 10-0-57-0.