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With eye on semis, India enter ‘big picture’ mode | Cricket


With eye on semis, India enter ‘big picture’ mode | Cricket

A large mural of Kapil Dev and MS Dhoni with the World Cup trophy in tow adorns the entrance of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) office at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. It’s a sight hard to miss for India’s players when they wade through the notorious Bengaluru traffic and cross leafy Cubbon Park to make their way into the stadium. Just two games stand between skipper Rohit Sharma and his India teammates getting into that wall of fame exactly a week from now.

India's Virat Kohli and others during a practice session ahead of the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2023 match between India and Netherlands, at Chinnaswamy Stadium, in Bengaluru.(PTI)
India’s Virat Kohli and others during a practice session ahead of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 match between India and Netherlands, at Chinnaswamy Stadium, in Bengaluru.(PTI)

Before attention turns to the semi-final against New Zealand in Mumbai on Wednesday, there’s the final fixture of the preliminary phase against Netherlands in Bengaluru to get done with. The result is perhaps of mere academic interest, but India are likely to approach it with just as much energy and enthusiasm as they have done all their games so far. It has held the hosts in good stead all the way through, be it beating Australia by six wickets in their opener or hammering the Proteas by 243 runs in their last game.

“I think what we’ve been doing really well is we’ve maintained some really high standards in terms of our execution and intensity, and I think it’s just about continuing on that journey,” India head coach Rahul Dravid said on the eve of the Netherlands clash. “We’ve travelled the length and breadth of this country and played in eight venues. And this is our ninth venue. And I think what this team has done really well is it has represented India fantastically. It’s played a really good brand of cricket. And we’ve done that in eight venues. And we would like to do the same. We know we have nine boxes to tick, and we’ve ticked eight. And we would certainly like to put on another really good display.”

To go into the semi-final with a low-key contest against Netherlands before it may not be construed as ideal preparation. But if there’s one thing that’s stood out about India over the past five weeks, it’s their propensity to take the opposition out of the equation and focus squarely on their strengths.

While there has been conjecture about Jasprit Bumrah possibly getting rest for Sunday’s game given his importance in the semi-final, Dravid’s comments suggested otherwise.

“Honestly, we’ve had six days off after the last game. So, we’re pretty well rested and the guys are in good shape. We’ve got one game before the semi-final. Boys are rested. So that’s all I’ll say,” he said.

In case any of the pacers are rested, Prasidh Krishna, a local armed with knowledge of these conditions, may come into the fray. The 27-year-old, who joined India’s squad in Kolkata as a replacement for Hardik Pandya, sweated it out in the nets on Wednesday and Friday. Game time for those predominantly on the bench may help just in case their services are required in the semi-final, but India don’t seem to feel that need.

“To be honest with you, you’re at a pointy end in the tournament now. So now at this stage it’s about just focusing on getting the guys who you think are going to be playing in the 11 in the best possible space mentally and physically to be able to play that semi-final and hopefully the final if we earn it. So that will be the single pointed thinking. There are times for larger picture thinking and there are times for narrow focus thinking in my opinion and now’s the time for narrow focus if everyone is fit,” said the India coach.

If there’s a case at all for experimentation in Bengaluru on Sunday, it may be a good idea to promote Suryakumar Yadav from his customary No. 6 spot to No. 4 for more time in the middle. Since coming into the side against New Zealand after Pandya’s injury, Surya’s scores read 2, 49, 12 and 22. But those numbers, Dravid pointed out, have to be seen in the context of their roles in the team. On a sluggish surface against England, for example, Surya’s contribution of 49 was instrumental in India reaching 229/9.

“I can look back on this whole campaign and look at the contributions of our middle order and they’ll come only in sort of spurts, or one knock here, or two knocks there, or Shreyas (Iyer), or KL (Rahul), or Surya’s knock here, and Jaddu’s (Ravindra Jadeja) important knock in Dharamsala. And you can look at a lot of these small, small things, and actually that’s what really gives you those ticks, or gives you those wins at the end of the day. So, it’s a combination of things. And touchwood, our middle-order has been truly exceptional in this tournament,” said Dravid.

Dravid went on to elaborate about Iyer, whose frailty against the short ball seems to be compensated by other strengths such as dominance versus spin. “He brings temperament. I think one of the things Shreyas has shown us is the way he handles success, failure,” he said. “You just look at even some of his knocks under pressure, how he’s able to actually bring the best out of himself under those pressure situations. Everyone will have areas that they need to work on. But in the end of the day, you have to be judged by the results you produce.”

Well, Iyer and India are certainly producing the right results.

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