| Harbhajan Singh is hugged by teammates during their tri-series match vs the West Indies in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Kuala Lumpur: Riding a superb bowling performance, Team India made the West Indies pay for extravagant experimentation and saved themselves the arduous job of beating Australia with a bonus Friday. The new ball bowlers were fast and aggressive, while MoM Harbhajan Singh made the ball talk.
It was a language the West Indians didn’t understand and, after Wednesday’s 16-run win at the Kinrara Oval, a straight victory over the world champions is going to suffice. An abandonment, though, will end India’s run in the DLF Cup as the Australians are ahead on points (7-6).
The penultimate league match was bizarre: The West Indies fielded just one specialist bowler (Corey Collymore), but bowled out India for 162 inside 40 overs on a track which had moisture and did a few things. Then, despite ten batsmen (mix of specialists and allrounders), Brian Lara’s team managed no more than 146!
The captain, who chose to bat at No. 9, ran out of partners. He remained unbeaten on 40, the team’s top score.
“I wanted to see whether those who either hadn’t played in the tournament (Runako Morton) or those who hadn’t got big runs (Wavell Hinds, Marlon Samuels) could gain confidence and show responsibility... They failed... Having already made the final, we had this luxury of knowing where we stood,” Lara explained in a tone which suggested he was very annoyed.
He added: “Chris (Gayle) batted at No. 6 and I came even later as I wanted the rest to get away from a situation where the usual top order got runs... How long do I continue with this (middle order’s failure)' Well, till the end of the Champions Trophy as the 14 here has been retained till that tournament... If the guys don’t take the opportunities, they're going to be replaced (after the Champions Trophy)...”
Asked which of Friday’s ‘semi-finalists’ he would like to face in the final, Lara grinned: “That’s a tricky one to answer... May the best team win... Doesn’t matter, really...”
Rahul Dravid, the Indian captain, conceded that not having to beat Australia with a bonus point came as a relief. “That would have put us under pressure... Today’s was a 210-220 wicket and a combination of factors led to our low score — bad batting, good bowling... The track did have something, but you can’t expect wickets to be flat all the time...”
He expressed “satisfaction” with the repair work done on it over the past few days — incidentally, the one with the ridge. More repairs will be done and, so, Friday’s match has been shifted (by Match Referee Chris Broad) to the other track. The wicket for Sunday hasn’t been decided.
“Yes, we were disappointed at the break (West Indies 34 for no loss) as we hadn’t batted well, but tried to stay relaxed... Of course, we knew we had to bowl them out,” Dravid added. A major concern must be the opening pair’s failure to post a tidy partnership in successive matches. The captain has himself been failing.
Then, there’s the body language bit. On Wednesday, it didn’t exist in the first session. There was absolutely no josh and it seemed the Indians didn’t have the stomach to fight. Thankfully, that changed once the floodlights came on. Dravid justified Irfan Pathan’s exclusion (and Sreesanth’s recall) by saying: “We fielded the five best bowlers... We need Irfan to contribute in two areas, but he has been struggling with his bowling... That’s not to say he won’t be bowling well in, say, a month’s time... Munaf (Patel) and Sreesanth had a great spell after the break and, then, Ajit (Agarkar) followed it up... Later, Harbhajan did the job...”
Till the other day, Mohammed Kaif and Pathan used to be certainties. Today, both have seats on the reserves bench. And, while Munaf’s bowling has been improving, he has to get better on the park. Frankly, he’s an embarrassment.
Dravid, by the way, praised Harbhajan’s bold 37 and his 78-run partnership for the seventh wicket with maestro Sachin Tendulkar (65), the victim of a freak run out. “That’s one positive from the match... Harbhajan showed he has the skills and can apply himself... It’s going to be critical for us... Definitely is a good sign...”
Speaking to The Telegraph, Harbhajan said: “I’m pleased with my effort, but we’ve got to beat Australia... Right now, I wouldn’t like to dedicate the MoM award to anybody...” Clearly, Jaland-har’s favourite puttar is focused on trapping the bigger fish.
Significantly, two of his three MoM awards (in ODIs) have come this year.