India is worthy of a place in the World Cup semi-finals as it again proved in beating New Zealand. It is playing with a confidence and spirit rarely seenbefore.[an error occurred while processing this directive]
The win over New Zealand again highlighted Indian team's considerable transformation. Whatever has been done to bring about this modern miracleshould be documented and placed in a shrine. If it could be recorded there would be a number of prospective consumers in the cricket world willing to pay considerable royalties to access the secret.The Indian express is getting up a good head of steam. This energy should take them to the final but they need to take it one day at a time. As each game goes by, and one win builds into seven in a row.It is important that the team focuses on demolishing Kenya before thinking of the final. History shows that going too fast towards the destination has derailed many trains.The difference between where the Indian squad is now, and where it was after the defeat to Australia in the second game of the first stage, is that now it believes in itself. Since the crushing loss to Australia three weeks ago prompted so much gnashing of teeth and serious recriminations back in India, Saurav Ganguly and his, much happier, band of men have gone from strength to strength.This revival was put into perspective in this game when New Zealand, which had put India through considerable anguish during the recent tour of New Zealand, looked as ragged as India had been at the start of the World Cup.The recriminations will now be heard loud and clear in the Shaky Isles. Stephen Fleming will be as confused and confounded on departure as Ganguly and John Wright were on their arrival in South Africa.New Zealand's abysmal batting form should be the focus of attention in the review that will be done when the dust settles. It has been a disastrous tour for all bar the captain, with the poor return for Craig McMillan and NathanAstle, both good players, being the most distressing. Considering that most pitches here in South Africa has been batting-friendly much soul searching will be done. As much as the extra bounce here compared with New Zealand may have been a contributing factor, the real problem will be found in the psyche of the individuals concerned. Confidence can be a tenuous state. Good players do not lose their talent overnight but confidence is regularly left on the pillow. One poor innings or concern with an opponent, or even one opposition bowler, has been enough for many players to have a restless night's sleep.As India has found in this tournament, success is the best antidote to lost confidence. The New Zealand bowling has also been of concern forthem in this campaign. Shane Bond has been a shining light but his partners have been left in the shadows. Daniel Vettori is a class act, but the rest of the contingent has been found wanting regularly. Chris Cairns loss to the bowling attack was keenly felt. He has been the class all-rounder who has given the team balance in the past. His lack of form with the bat has exacerbated the imbalance in the side. Stephen Fleming is one of the better captains in world cricket and has the mental skills to have plotted the downfall of more fancied teams. He just did not have the firepower on this occasion to pull off an improbable sting. It will be embarrassing for New Zealand if Zimbabwe manage a form reversal and beat Sri Lanka for New Zealand is not worthy of a semi-final place on current form. Once again the emerging young pace bowlers did the damage for India. This time Zaheer Khan was the ringleader. Having taken the wickets of the hapless McMillan and Astle in the first over, Khan returned later to equal hisbest-ever return of four for 42 from his eight overs.
Srinath played a back-seat role on this occasion in taking one for 20 in his eight overs, while Ashish Nehra continued his fine form with one for 20 from a full complement of 10 overs. Harbhajan Singh completed the rout of the New Zealanders with two for 28, also from 10 overs. Winning takes some practice and it relieves some of the pressure on the group and on individuals that, in turn, allows the individuals the freedom to play their natural game.
The Australians have shown what this combination of freedom and belief can achieve. They have got themselves into some tough places during this World Cup, but have got themselves out of it because they have not panicked. This will be the test for India over the next week. It needs to keep firmly focussed on what has got it to the position of a virtually guaranteed final berth. It has been its commitment to the process that has allowed it to resurrect its self-belief from the depression a recent history of poor form and a string of losses had caused. When out of form a player, or team, tends to focus on the negative issues.
When in form it is generally the positive things that are accentuated. John Wright and Saurav Ganguly will need to keep their charges emphasising these aspects of their preparation for the final two games. Australia will be doing this and while it has had more success, therefore more experience of doing this in recent times, it also now has the harder road to the final. It will not want to have had to face Sri Lanka on the slow wicket at Port Elizabeth that has caused most of its headaches so far in this tournament.
If Sri Lanka can rid itself of the malaise of uncertainty that envelops it from time to time it may yet cause the biggest upset of this topsy-turvy World Cup. It will require a good start, preferably batting first and making a big score, then its dibbly-dobbly, spin quartet may just cause enough headaches to bring the Australian colossus to its knees. This is the stuff of boys-own fantasies. In the real world though I do not see this happening. PTI