Johannesburg: If World Cup rivals needed any convincing about India's dislike for fast bowling, it was provided in ample measure by a rookie of Indian descent ahead of Saturday's opening. Yadeen Singh, whose forefathers hailed from India, left Saurav Ganguly's team searching for answers after decimating them in a practice match on Thursday.
The 20-year-old, yet to play a first-class match, removed Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Ganguly in a dream spell that set up a 32-run victory for provincial team KwaZulu Natal at Chatsworth. The much-touted Indian batting relived the nightmare of a recent tour of New Zealand as it was shot out for 158 chasing a modest 190 for nine. The defeat, just six days before India's World Cup opener against the Netherlands at Paarl, left coach John Wright fuming.
"What use is the talent if it is not followed by application," thundered the otherwise mild-mannered Kiwi. Singh, who fails to find a place in the provincial team when the big guns Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener are available, clearly enjoyed his moment under the sun. He bowled Ganguly in his second over and then claimed the redoubtable Tendulkar, who drove a catch to mid-off after making nine. Singh's deceptive pace and accuracy also accounted for Sehwag later in the innings. His achievement took time to sink in.
Singh was just happy bowling to cricketers he had enjoyed watching on television. "I support South Africa, but I love the Indians," he said. "I would have been happy even if I had not got those wickets." The Indians head for Saturday's opening ceremony in Cape Town clearly rattled by the experience. "There is still some time before our first match, and a lot of hard work ahead," Wright said.
India can ill-afford to slip when the tournament starts, drawn as it is in a tough preliminary group that includes defending champions Australia, Pakistan, England, Zimbabwe, Namibia and the Dutch. Only three teams from the group will advance to the super six stage, a task Indians will find hard to achieve given their recent poor form. Despite the presence of Tendulkar, One-day cricket's most successful batsmen, and seasoned players like Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, the Indians were hammered 5-2 by New Zealand in a recent One-day series. Two months earlier, the West Indies recorded a rare 4-3 win on Indian soil.
If there is still hope for India, it stems mainly from the unpredictable nature of One-day cricket. It all depends on how the team plays on a given day. Wright, and millions of cricket crazy fans back home, are praying the team does not stutter when it matters most. After all, what Yadeen Singh can do, the likes of Glenn McGrath, Shoaib Akhtar and Wasim Akram can do infinitely better.