Over in a jiffy

India’s nine-wicket win over the United Arab Emirates demonstrates that Associate cricket needs more attention from the ICC, writes Shreedutta Chidananda.

Compared to the electric atmosphere that lit up India’s two previous matches in the World Cup, this one was a bit of a dud. A crowd of 8,718 did walk through the gates of the WACA Stadium in Perth, but there was none of the tension or excitement that had been a feature of the earlier ties. Perth, of course, is way out in Australia’s west (in the same time-zone as Kuala Lumpur and Singapore) and is no bustling metropolis like Sydney or Melbourne with a huge Indian population. And then there was the opponent, which did not exactly get the competitive juices flowing.

The UAE had played only 20 previous ODIs and it showed. Indian fans at the ground sighed in disappointment when Mohammad Tauqir won the toss and opted to bat first, for it denied them a chance to witness some record scores. As it was, UAE made 102, unable to come to grips with the guile of R. Ashwin. The off-spinner returned career-best figures of four for 25. UAE was 52 for six inside the 20th over and it was clear that the game was headed for a ridiculously early finish.

It is a myth that the WACA does not support spin bowling — Ravi Shastri’s five for 15 are the best figures at the venue. There is bounce on offer and there’s a breeze blowing across the ground. With his height, Ashwin proved a handful. One batsman succumbed to the bounce while two others fell to the bowler’s variations. Swapnil Patil was done in by a seam-up delivery that swung away from him, while a quicker ball accounted for Mohammad Naveed. Ashwin varied his pace intelligently and left UAE groping in the dark.

“Ash bowled really well. What’s really important is according to the wicket you have to change your bowling to some extent. You have to find the right length and the right trajectory to bowl, and I felt Ash did that really well. He did use his faster one, also, and he was quite successful to get a bit of swing on it, and that was the reason he got a couple of wickets out of those particular deliveries. But I felt his line and length were superb and the pace at which he bowled. Also Jadeja got a bit of turn later on. I introduced him quite late. I wanted to go a few more overs with the fast bowler, but he bowled really well. Whatever opportunity he got, he bowled well,” M. S. Dhoni said later.

That the UAE total entered three figures was due largely to Shaiman Anwar, its stand-out batsman, who made 35. Umesh Yadav was excellent at the top, his pace and lift proving too much for the batsmen. Bhuvneshwar Kumar got a chance, in place of the injured Mohammed Shami, and he took his first wicket in 40 days in his five-over spell.

“It was good to give him a game. Shami was not 100 per cent, so looking at the tournament ahead, obviously we felt it was better off if we can give Shami a bit of rest. I thought Bhuvy started off well. He was slightly up in pace. That’s what it felt like from behind. It’s good to see the whole fast bowling unit available for selection. We’ll see who’s the best on those particular wickets that’s provided. It’s good to see him getting a bit of action,” Dhoni said.

It was an opportunity for India to experiment and give players time in the middle but the captain had to be careful in not disrupting the balance of the side.

India was left with a small target to chase, one the batsmen made no mistake in pursuing. Shikhar Dhawan would have liked to help himself to some runs but he fell for 14, caught superbly by Rohan Mustafa at point. It was perhaps the day’s brightest spot for UAE.

Rohit Sharma made a half-century which, after his injury during the triangular series, augurs well. Virat Kohli remained in form, too, with a breezy 31.

It is easy to snigger at UAE but the team was perhaps overawed against the defending champion. In its previous games, UAE had run Zimbabwe close and could easily have beaten Ireland. “The more we play against these bigger nations, the more we learn and the more we perform, and I think that that fear or that thinking of a bigger team would not be there,” Tauqir said.

If anything, India’s nine-wicket win demonstrates that Associate cricket needs more attention from the ICC.