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G Rajaraman - Keep the Faith

There is such a clinical, chilling precision to India's approach these days that its opposition will begin to wonder if anything is beyond Mahendra ...

Wednesday, January 28, 2022

India playing with chilling precision

There is such a clinical, chilling precision to India's approach – laced with immense self-belief – to the task of chasing a target in a limited-over international these days that its opposition will begin to wonder if anything is beyond Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his team. There was more evidence of such methodical pursuit on a sluggish track in Dambulla on Tuesday.

There may not be many fans for the no-frills attitude, especially with a whole generation of cricket watchers growing up, admiring big strokeplay. Yet, it was just as well that Team India chose a steady pace rather than risk losing its way in quest of dazzling strokes. I believe that the efficient chase of an asking rate of five runs an over is a sign of the team maturing as a unit.

That the team was happy to play nearly 150 dot balls and get nearly 100 runs off just singles is testimony to its sensible approach. It is this growing maturity and the ability to score at a faster pace that makes India a dangerous opposition. The fact that the team has achieved this fairly consistently in the past 12 months is heart-warming indeed.

There was no hint of panic when Sachin Tendulkar fell early – Virender Sehwag was not playing the game owing to an injury – as the left-handers Gautam Gambhir and Suresh Raina strung together a hundred partnership. There was none when they both went into the hut within minutes. And there was no hint of stress when Yuvraj Singh batted against the spinners.

And what does one say of Dhoni's batsmanship that saw the side home comfortably. His half-century was notable for the composure that be brought to the table, despite the awareness that the spin duo of Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis could bowl five of the final 10 overs. Together with Yuvraj Singh and Rohit Sharma, he ensured that the target was achieved.

It did look like Dhoni's decision to open the attack with Munaf Patel rather than Ishant Sharma as Zaheer Khan's new ball partner had backfired on him, what with the Ikhar Express not being up to scratch. There was more than a tacit admission of that when the captain employed Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina for as many as eight overs.

Sri Lanka will realise that its batting has to put up a taller score if it is to challenge the Indian line-up. A magnificent hundred by the ageless Sanath Jayasuriya was not enough and the others need to do more than merely get off to good starts as Kumar Sangakkara, Thilina Kandamby and even skipper Mahela Jayawardene did.

Of course, Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma can take much of the credit for keeping the scoring down by being among the wickets. Left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha played his part as the sole specialist spinner admirably, even breaking the second-wicket partnership with a piece of smart bowling that saw him fire the ball short when Sangakkara stepped down the track.

Then again, in raising the bar so effortlessly, Team India has also built expectations that can sometimes prove to be an Albatross round its neck. The squad can control its destiny as well as it can but not the manner in which its fans respond to the odd failure. But then, worries around the harsh reactions at such times should not stop the side from evolving all the time.

To say the least, tracking the Indian team's steady and sustained hunt for victory on Tuesday was a delight. For a side that has not played as a team since Christmas, it will have left the home side captain Jayawardene scratching his head in search for a way to stop it from running away with more victories in the current series.


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