Who are India's missing pieces?

As the Irish cricketers closed in on a remarkable upset at Bangalore, one group of cricketers would have sat in their hotel rooms, watching the game with a mixture of glee and trepidation. For the Indian team, it must have been rewarding to see a team who had the gall to almost pull off a record chase against them the other night, go down against their traditional sporting rivals in another record chase. At the same time, the Indian bowling attack is no better than England’s right now. If the bowlers don’t get their act together in time, the likes of Joyce, Stirling, Mooney and the O’Brien brothers will feast on the offerings and give their team a chance to cause the biggest upset at all.

To avoid England’s ignominy, India will have to first figure out whether they need to play 4 or 5 specialist bowlers. Personally, I would hate to drop any of the batsmen given the form they are in; and it is not like 5 bowlers will guarantee success anyway. India’s 5th bowler options are not too bad; If Yuvraj, Pathan and Sehwag can bowl 10 overs among themselves and concede close to 50-55 runs while taking a couple of wickets, they have done their job. It is better to pick 4 of our best bowlers and form a bowling game plan around them. Of course, it is not ideal, but Dhoni will just have to make the most with the resources he’s got.
Even then, India have no idea who their best 4 bowlers are. Sreesanth might have just bowled himself out of future games after a horror game against Bangladesh, while Zaheer and Harbhajan will remain as the only first picks in the bowling line up. It leaves Munaf, Nehra, Chawla and Ashwin battling for the remaining two spots.

Munaf Patel has done a decent job in ODIs recently. He helped India to a thrilling one run victory in South Africa, and in the game against Bangladesh pulled things back a bit after Sreesanth’s opening spell. Against England though, he showed why it is a risk to trust him as your 2nd choice pacer. On flat wickets (which are the norm in this tournament) and against superior batsmen, he will be exposed for the moderately talented bowler that he is. After the way KOB feasted on the likes of Broad, Bresnan and Anderson, Munaf could turn out to be dessert for the Irish batsmen.

Ashish Nehra, on the other hand, has more pace while possessing a canny mind. He has been off the boil, in the last few series; but there is nothing like a World Cup to motivate a sportsman. He should know. He burst into national consciousness on a Durban night, when he decimated the English batsmen in a canny display of pace and swing. Of course, the conditions are different and his form is not the same; still, he would be a better choice than Munaf and Sreesanth. For bonus skills, he can strike a four in the last over of a close game to win the match!

Piyush Chawla has had a good return to the team. A surprise pick initially in the squad, he has gone on to become Dhoni’s preferred second spinner. He troubled Australia in friendly conditions in a warm-up, but when he came on to bowl on a flatter pitch with a big total to defend against England, he didn’t do much to inspire confidence. He did pick Trott’s wicket which was a big one, but subsequently did not trouble the rest and his final expensive over put paid to any hopes of a miraculous Indian win. Of course, it is harsh to drop him based on one game, but he needs to be consistent to warrant a fixed place in the team.

Ravichandran Ashwin is the least likely to get a look in, atleast for the next few games; but Dhoni will do well to remember that Ashwin has rarely let his team down when he has been called on. Seeing the way Ireland demolished the English bowling in the Power Play, it might not be a bad idea to bring Ashwin, who has become somewhat of a Power-play specialist. He can bat as well as Chawla too.

So, my choices for the game against Ireland would be Zaheer-Nehra-Harbhajan-Chawla. If that doesn’t enthuse the skipper, he might as well take a page out of South Africa’s book and play 3 spinners in Harbhajan, Chawla and Ashwin!