MOHALI, India, (Reuters) – It took a selection blooper for India to make sure they had ticked all the boxes before they locked horns with Sri Lanka in Saturday’s World Cup final in Mumbai.
For a team that has peaked at the right time, India’s thin pace resource has been exposed in most of the matches and Zaheer Khan has had to shoulder the burden in the absence of an able new ball partner.
Against Australia and West Indies, off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin was harnessed to share the new ball with Zaheer in a ploy that was necessitated partly by India’s near-empty pace cupboard.
Ashish Nehra has been India’s best bowler in the death overs for a while until he conceded 16 runs off the final four deliveries in the group-stage defeat by South Africa and was dropped from the side.
As luck would have it, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni misread the pitch at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium and felt the track would assist seam bowlers more than spinners in Wednesday’s semi-final against Pakistan.
So Nehra was preferred to Ashwin and the lanky left-arm seam bowler turned out to be the most economic bowler in India’s pace department, conceding 33 runs in his tidy 10 overs to finish with two scalps.
Dhoni admitted he could not read the wicket when opting for a three-pronged seam attack.
“It was not a typical Mohali track, it was turning. We read the wicket wrong and that’s why we went with three seamers,” Dhoni said.
“But in the end the seamers bowled really well.
“It is interesting that a few game earlier, Nehra was criticised a lot. It’s good to see him come back and do really well for us.”
Almost equally heartening was Harbhajan Singh’s form in the match as the off-spinner, who looked happy with the containing job so far in the tournament, struck two blows to derail Pakistan’s chase.
At a crucial juncture, Harbhajan dismissed the dangerous looking Umar Akmal and captain Shahid Afridi to put India in command.
The other positive India drew from the high-octane semi-final was their ability to soak in the pressure that some of their opponents could not.
The unflappable Dhoni, aided by coach Gary Kirsten and other support staff, seemed to have succeeded in instilling a quiet confidence in his team mates, who showed nerves of steel in the semi-final.
With a billion dreams resting on their shoulders and the ‘cricket diplomacy’ initiatives surrounding it, the Indian players went about their job with a business-like attitude.
While their opponents got overwhelmed by the occasion and spilled catch after catch, the co-hosts never panicked even after settling for a score that looked to be short of a winning total.
With little to choose between the teams skill-wise at this level, mental toughness often makes the difference in close matches and India would fancy having an edge against Sri Lanka on Saturday, having passed the biggest test against Pakistan in Mohali.