Ojha in full flight

Pragyan Ojha’s incisive spin bowling and Yuvraj Singh’s cameo with the bat earlier were the highlights as India opened its campaign with a victory. S. Dinakar reports.

Yuvraj Singh’s meaty blows and Pragyan Ojha’s flight and spin were the key elements in India’s 25-run win over Bangladesh. The left-handed Yuvraj’s 18-ball 41, inclusive of three fours and four sixes, powered India to 180 for five when the side seemed heading for a total of only around 160.

Yuvraj’s bat-swing — easy and relaxed like that of a golfer — is a thing of beauty. The southpaw can clear the ground effortlessly. Then, left-arm spinner Ojha dismissed four batsmen. He imparted spin and the ball dipped as the batsmen ventured forward.

Spinners have been calling the shots in the ICC World Twenty20 and it was no different in the Group ‘A’ game at Trent Bridge. Ojha clearly revelled bowling with a calm mind and much skill. He mixed them up well, not allowing the batsmen to settle into a rhythm. Changes in length are an essential aspect of bowling in Twenty20 cricket. And when a bowler does so, he invariably switches his trajectory and pace as well.

Ojha has a reasonable arm-ball in his repertoire and can also get the ball to break rather than spin. Four wickets for 21 runs in four overs of accuracy and subtle variations was an outstanding piece of bowling from Ojha and he was named the Man of the Match.

He picked up key wickets. Shakib Al Hasan was done in by one that skidded through; he top-edged an attempted pull. Opener Junaid was staging a spirited fightback, dismissing deliveries to distant parts ruthlessly, when he was, fatally, lured down the track to miscue a hit. The opener’s 22-ball 41 was high on enterprise.

Ojha continued to strike. This time he was helped by Yuvraj Singh, who flung himself forward at short-fine leg to hold the catch after Mahmudullah could not keep a stroke around-the-corner down. The big-hitting Mashrafe Mortaza represented the last threat to India. Ojha foxed him with a delivery that spun from middle to off.

With senior off-spinner Harbhajan Singh steady from the other end, the pressure was maintained on the Bangladesh batsmen. It was not easy for the spinners to bowl in chilly conditions with icy winds sweeping the ground. Gripping the ball was hard. Ojha said bowling in the IPL during the South African winter had helped him in this regard.

By selecting two specialist spinners — despite proven non-regular spin options — the Indian team-management had backed the specialists to do the job. Ojha and Harbhajan did not let the captain down.

The pacemen contributed too. Ishant Sharma picked up the key wicket of Mohammad Ashraful, who perished to an airy cover-drive. Zaheer Khan, returning after a shoulder injury, bowled with a fair amount of rhythm.

But for an odd dropped catch, the Indians were sharp on the field. The fielders backed the bowling.

Earlier, Rohit Sharma sizzled at the start after India opted to bat. Gautam Gambhir donned the anchoring role and Yuvraj Singh sparkled towards the end after the Indians seemed to be losing momentum.

In the 17th over, Yuvraj spoiled off-spinner Naeem Islam’s figures with three sixes in four deliveries; a pick-up shot off his legs, a lofted on-drive and a back-footed pull. In the next over, he struck paceman Rubel Hossain over long-on. The Indian supporters were on their feet.

Irfan Pathan biffed a couple of lusty hits in the final over and India reached the 180-mark. Before being held in the deep off Naeem, Gautam Gambhir (50, 46b, 4x4), had rotated the strike well.

Rohit Sharma’s bat-speed and the quickness with which he picked up the length and hit through the line were much in evidence. India’s 50 arrived in only 32 deliveries. Rohit’s batsmanship is an exotic blend of enterprise, balance and timing. He does not wait for scoring opportunities and his 23-ball 36 (3x4, 2x6) was a rollicking effort.

Left-arm spinner Shakib bowled wicket-to-wicket and varied his length. Dhoni promoted himself to one-drop but struggled to force the bowling. The Indian run-rate was pegged back; India’s second 50 came off 44 deliveries with one four and a six. Then Yuvraj cut loose.

THE SCORES

India 180 for five in 20 overs (G. Gambhir 50, R. Sharma 36, M. Dhoni 26, Yuvraj Singh 41, Naeem Islam two for 32) beat Bangladesh 155 for eight in 20 overs (Junaid Siddique 41, Naeem Islam 28, I. Sharma two for 34, P. Ojha four for 21).