Saturday, February 19, 2011

Revenge is foremost on India's mind

It's revenge time for India. The unexpected defeat at the hands of Bangladesh during the 2007 World Cup is still fresh in the minds of most Indian players and avenging that loss will be on top of their must-do agenda as they clash with the co-hosts in the opening match of the World Cup in Dhaka on Saturday.

That defeat was instrumental in sending India out of the tournament in the first round itself and the hurt can still be felt in the Indian camp. Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni just doesn't want to talk about it. "Never even thought about it because we don't want to repeat what happened in 2007," he said on the eve of the big game that millions of people are looking forward to. In several ways, the result of the day-night encounter at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium could set the tone for the 14-nation, 45-day tournament. If it turns out to be a closely fought encounter, it will be a good advertisement for the 50-over format - which some people feel is under threat from Twenty20 - and will make investors/advertisers and some others smile.
Already, an anonymous punter has put a bet of £82,000 bet - the biggest ever laid on a one-day game - with a London bookmaker on India winning the World Cup. But Dhoni would again not like to think about it, otherwise it would add to the pressure on him. Bangladesh have managed to eke out only two wins in 22 matches against India in more than 22 years of bilateral ODI history, but the one they managed on March 17, 2007, was the most telling. And when Dhoni, who failed to score in that game but took three catches, goes out for the toss, his mind would surely go back to that defeat.
He may have given a new name to pressure, "added responsibility", but he can't just shrug it away from his mind. One consolation for India is that pacer Mashrafe Mortaza, who bagged four wickets and was man of the match in that game, is not in the team. Seven of the 11 players who lost that game are still in the Indian team and would be itching to avenge that embarrassment.
Interestingly, India and Bangladesh could be in different mindsets as they returned contrasting results just before the World Cup. While India lost the five-match ODI series 2-3 in South Africa last month, Bangladesh blanked New Zealand 4-0 at home and then thrashed Zimbabwe 3-1 in December and would be high on confidence.
For India, pace spearhead Zaheer Khan is suspected to be a doubtful starter due to an injury. But Dhoni was confident he would play. "Zaheer is fit as of now. I have not spoken to the physio. If there is something, I will let you know," he said. Left-armer Zaheer bowled at the nets on Friday evening, but did not go full throttle. Maybe, Dhoni wants to preserve him for the more important matches coming ahead. Maybe, the bowler is still not 100 per cent match fit. The answers will be known on Saturday afternoon when Dhoni exchanges the team sheets with his Bangladesh counterpart Shakib Al Hasan at the toss.
Dhoni said spinners could play a big role in the tournament as pitches in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka largely support slow bowlers. Bangladesh too would depend largely on spinners, who happen to be their strength, especially on home turf.
The India skipper too acknowledged this. "All three Bangladesh spinners are good. They have got two good part-timers who can bowl off-spin and leg-spin. It's a good side. In the sub-continent, they rely a lot on their spinners because here they get more assistance than anywhere else," he said.
Shakib was gung ho about Bangladesh's prospects. "Our bowlers are in good form, the batsmen have been doing their job and our fielding has improved a lot," he said, looking confident.
"This tournament is not only about playing India. We have six league matches to play and we have to perform in all of them. If we get our basics right, we will do well."
Bangladesh will no doubt receive wholehearted support from vociferous home fans. But the experienced Indian players are not new to playing and winning in adverse conditions. And they are expected to do the same on Saturday.

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