After the exploits of Spain in the Euros, and Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at the French Open and Wimbledon, and with the Olympics still just a daily recount of past records and current muddles, India’s cricketers have quietly slipped back on stage.
We do get a lot of cricket these days, so the lukewarm interest in yet another ODI series between India and Sri Lanka, who seem to play each other every six months, is understandable. But for our cricketers, it’s not such a bad thing to ease into a new season after a break of nearly two months, a rare luxury for this bunch who are constantly in demand, whether it is for Twenty20 leagues or to replenish the coffers of Pakistan’s Cricket Board.
That the venue is Sri Lanka, where the World Twenty20 will be played in September, makes it a perfect prep for both these teams which are the favourites for that tournament in these conditions.
The Hambantota wicket was hardly a challenge for our batsmen, but still it was nice to see Virender Sehwag carry on with the rich vein of form he struck in the IPL. He began quietly, and was dropped at point by Tillakaratne Dilshan with whom he has a chequered relationship, but then dominated the bowling to climb up to a run a ball until he ran himself out four runs short of a century. Why he doesn’t always do this, giving himself and the new ball time to settle down before getting into full flow, beats me.
Virat Kohli, meanwhile, simply picked up where he left off before the IPL which was patchy for him this year, partly due to the captaincy that was thrust on him mid-course. This batting line-up looks terrific on sub-continental pitches; it’s the bowling that will be our worry in the months ahead. We have had one pace bowler after another breaking down with the sheer volume of intense cricket they are subjected to. As Brett Lee remarked in his book on one of the reasons why he quit early, he felt he was on a merry-go-round that was going faster and faster.
More than the fitness of the bowlers, however, it’s that fifth bowler cum seventh batsman slot that has been a thorn in Dhoni’s side for some time now. Irfan Pathan is the latest incumbent in that position, which seems to alternate between him and Ravindra Jadeja. Both of them were paid a princely sum in the IPL auction, again because they are considered all-rounders, but they did not exactly cover themselves in glory.
Pathan now gets yet another chance, fortuitously on account of the injury to R Vinay Kumar. He did get seven runs from the four balls he faced in Saturday’s first ODI, and a wicket in his very first over. Clearly he has no pace to talk of anymore, but if he can again make that new white ball swing into the right-handed batsman as he used to do, and get through at least half his overs relatively cheaply, it will give the Indian captain the balance he seems to crave — that’s why he got Chennai to pay a bomb to get Jadeja, and was so eager to include Pathan in the ODI side. It’s strange that with so much talent available, the fate of Indian cricket still lies in the hands of Irfan Pathan. But good luck to him and Dhoni. If they do get it right, we may soon have an encore of our World Cup victory in a shorter format.