Bowlers will hold the key in Champions Trophy 2017
India’s warm-up match against New Zealand on Sunday was unfortunately truncated by rain. While Virat Kohli and Co. did prevail by the Duckworth-Lewis method, there is nothing like winning a full-fledged game. Which happened against Bangladesh, who were summarily routed. Overall, performances in the warm-up matches were strong enough to suggest that the defence of the Champions Trophy, which begins today, will be sturdy.
While Dinesh Karthik served notice of his excellent touch this season in the match against Bangladesh, Kohli’s unbeaten half-century was the stand-out batting performance in chasing down the modest target set by the Kiwis. India’s captain had a lean Test series against Australia and an even more disappointing Indian Premier League (IPL). For him to find rhythm so early not only enhances the batting heft, but also puts pressure on opponents.
More interesting and pertinent, however, was India’s bowling performance. To bundle out New Zealand for 189 and then Bangladesh for 82 was a superb effort, even allowing for the fact that there was enough “juice” in the pitch for bowlers in both matches. New Zealand and Bangladesh are fine teams in limited, overs cricket and these wins will have boosted India’s confidence.
What particularly caught my attention in the score-card was the bowling columns. India used seven bowlers—five seamers and two spinners in the first match, six in the next. Barring young Hardik Pandya, all were successful, showing that they have adjusted quickly and are in fine form.
Pandya’s lack of wickets must also be seen in context. He was asked to open the bowling against New Zealand, which was perhaps an experimental step in trying to find the right balance in the side. He also carries value as a late-order hard-hitting batsman and is quick in the field.
It’s unlikely that India will play seven bowlers, but what the warm-up match showed was the options available to Kohli, not counting Yuvraj Singh’s part-time stuff if he makes the cut as a batsman. This redounds to the credit of the selectors, who have all the bases covered.
Keeping the focus strictly on One Day Internationals in this piece, the three major victories—the 1983 World Cup in England, the 1985 World Championship of Cricket in Australia and the 2013 Champions Trophy in England—were the result essentially of the magnificent efforts of the bowlers.
True, the 1983 World Cup win was pivoted around Kapil Dev’s incredible 175 not out against Zimbabwe. But apart from that match and the league encounter against the West Indies at Old Trafford where Yashpal Sharma and the middle order blunted the pace threat, it was the bowlers who dominated.
Kapil Dev, Roger Binny, Madan Lal, Mohinder Amarnath made terrific use of the seaming conditions in England—along with support from the likes of part-timer Kirti Azad—to stymie opponents. World champions West Indies being bowled out for 140 in the final is testimony to how well the Indian attack fared.
In 1985 in Australia, it was again the bowlers who shone consistently. This time Kapil Dev, Madan Lal and Amarnath had young Chetan Sharma for support in pace, while Ravi Shastri and leg-spinner L. Sivaramakrishnan also picked up plenty of wickets. Who can forget Siva luring Javed Miandad out of his crease to be stumped in the final?
In the 2013 Champions Trophy, Indian bowlers claimed 45 wickets in five matches—the most crucial factor in winning the tournament. In the rain-hit final, it appeared at one stage that England might overcome India’s modest score of 129 in 20 overs (reduced due to rain), but were left stranded five runs short by some excellent “death overs” bowling.
The reason I’ve dwelt on the bowling is because that’s what matters more when playing overseas. History shows that India’s triumphs—compared to playing in the subcontinent—have been influenced rather more by bowlers than batsmen.
India’s batting comes in for the most attention, praise (and flak) because as a nation we still remain obsessed with those who wield the willow: their runs and records, centuries and averages make headlines and earn most accolades.
The achievements of bowlers, sadly, remain “unsexy” for us. Megastar Indian batsmen are aplenty, bowlers barely a handful. This skew is often rationalized by the truism that cricket is a batsman’s game. In this Champions Trophy, though, I aver it is the bowling that is the crux.
India’s batsmen must ensure they don’t let them down.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.