Need to address issues

In Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli, India has two world-class fielders.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Mahendra Singh Dhoni's team mightn't be as wholesome as some of the high-quality sides of the past, but if it can make the most of its singular riches, while handling the constricting pressure that comes with playing at home, it will give itself its best shot at success in the World Cup. By S. Ram Mahesh.

The narrative of India's final One-Day International cricket assignment before the World Cup was one of chances spurned. The opportunity to win its maiden ODI series in South Africa beckoned, but M. S. Dhoni's team couldn't press the lead it had gained after three games.

In the 2-3 series defeat certain dispiriting tendencies repeated themselves: barring Virat Kohli and Yusuf Pathan, India's batsmen gave a poor account of themselves in conditions difficult for batting and against a quality bowling unit; unduly defensive play permitted South Africa to recover on several occasions when it had very nearly been pushed to the point of no return; despite flashes of brilliance, particularly when catching, India's out-cricket often compromised it.

With the World Cup imminent, India will need to address these issues if it is to live up to its billing as one of the favourites. The batting should be remedied without too much bother — not only will the re-entry of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, and Gautam Gambhir help, the conditions in most parts of the sub-continent will ask less severe questions of the batsmen than those in South Africa.

India's tactical tendencies can be reformed as well. The side, when backed to a corner, attacks uninhibitedly. While such a style of cricket might not always be possible in the sub-continent — at times, damage limitation is the only resort — India will benefit from making the play more than allowing the game to progress at its natural rhythm.

India's out-cricket hasn't a quick-fix solution, however. While most are safe catchers, the squad has too many inadequate fielders to hide. The key is to maximise what the two world-class fielders — Kohli and Suresh Raina — do by stationing them in areas where the ball is apt to pass frequently and making sure the bowlers bowl lengths that involve these men in the action.

The New Zealand team that made the semifinals of the 2007 World Cup did precisely this.

Dhoni used them similarly in the series against South Africa, and Kohli, in particular, created chances. Kohli was also the most impressive of the young batsmen, outshining Rohit Sharma and M. Vijay, both of whom had wretched tours. Where Kohli succeeded was in making minute adjustments to his game during an innings, always a sign of a fine batsman. Yusuf answered questions about his ability against the short ball while playing two of the most astonishing innings in recent limited-overs history. His presence at seven offers India a formidable game-changer no other side has.

Dhoni's team mightn't be as wholesome as some of the high-quality sides of the past, but if it can make the most of its singular riches, while handling the constricting pressure that comes with playing at home, it will give itself its best shot at success in the World Cup.