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Rediff.com  » Cricket » Prem Panicker: India sustain their intensity, to a point

Prem Panicker: India sustain their intensity, to a point

February 28, 2015 17:05 IST

The UAE has played 21 ODIs in 21 years. The Indians have played 22 ODIs in 12 months. Prem Panicker surveys the landscape of the mismatched 'contest' at the WACA.

Ravichandran Ashwin celebrates after dismissing Krishna Karate of the  UAE at the WACA on February 28, 2015. Photograph: Paul Kane/Getty ImagesSince making its international ODI debut in April 1994 against India in the Australasia Cup, the United Arab Emirates -- an ensemble cast of expatriate Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans and the odd native Emirati -- has played 21 international matches.

Eighteen of those matches were played over a span of 20 years and eight months ending December 2014; three more have come this February, in the ongoing World Cup.

Against that, the Indian one-day team has played 22 games in the past 12 months alone, not counting the three in this World Cup.

Those numbers bookend the story of the mismatch of February 28 at the WACA in Perth: A 'contest' between a team of contracted professionals who play cricket for a living, against a motley collection of players who hold down strenuous day jobs and have to find the time and energy to practise cricket in their off hours.

It was, predictably, no contest. UAE won the toss and 'elected to collapse' to perpetuate a bon mot. The Emirati found the pace and swing of Umesh Yadav and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, the latter replacing the injured Mohammed Shami, and the extra bounce of the WACA a mixture too rich.

Openers Andre Berenger and Amjad Ali failed to control impulsive hooks to short of length deliveries from Yadav and Kumar respectively; in both instances the ball was too close, and bouncing too much, for the batsmen to pull off the shot.

Ravichandran Ashwin took over in the 11th over. Bowling into the Freemantle Doctor and abetted by either two slips or a slip and a leg slip, the off-spinner shredded the upper half of the batting with a combination of regulation off-spinners that bounced and turned and the disguised arm-ball, for all practical purposes a gentle away-swinger, that opens up the outer edge of batsmen playing for the turn in to them.

Image: Ravichandran Ashwin celebrates after dismissing Krishna Karate of the UAE at the WACA on February 28, 2015. Photograph: Paul Kane/Getty Images

At 44/5 in the 17th over -- two to the opening seamers, three to Ashwin, four of the five wickets falling to catches behind the wicket -- the game was effectively over.

The best you could say for the bottom six was that they added 58 runs where their batting betters had managed 44 -- a performance powered by a 31-run last wicket partnership between middle-order stroke-player Shaiman Anwar and number 11 Asanka Guruge.

Even so, the eventual total of 102 all out (31.3 overs) is the lowest by any team against India in all World Cup competitions.

The only real point of interest was whether India, which had lifted its all-round game to championship heights against Pakistan, then South Africa, would be able to sustain the intensity.

They did, to a point. With the best will in the world, no team can maintain against a lesser side the same intensity it brings to a game against the tournament favorites. That said, the Indians didn't put a foot wrong with the ball and in the field, where they maintained their tournament record of catching everything that came their way way.

The opening bowlers Yadav and Kumar were pacy and consistent in line, using the bouncer to unsettle batsmen unusued to the lift of the WACA; Ashwin for the third game in succession bowled as an attacking off-spinner would, hitting the fuller lengths, using the turning, bouncing off break as the stock delivery and the arm-ball, with varying degrees of swerve, as the unsettling variable.

Mohit Sharma was consistent in line, if a tad prone to overdo the short ball; Ravi Jadeja's wicket-to-wicket lines and hustling speed in the air complemented Ashwin’s slower pace and teasing flight admirably.

Dhoni backed his bowlers with attacking fields almost throughout, with three slips and an almost-gully throughout the initial power-play overs, and maintaining a bevy of close catchers throughout the UAE innings.

The Emirati opening bowlers Mohammed Naveed and Asanka Guruge, to their credit, didn't make it too easy for the Indian openers. But at their level, and with their limited experience with match play, neither bowler was able to sustain the intensity beyond the first two or three overs of their spell; once their edge was blunted, the 'chase' was a fait accompli.

Virat Kohli, second from right, and Rohit Sharma walk off the field during a break in play against the UAE. David Gray/Reuters

Rohit Sharma struggled to find fluent touch in the opening overs, but once he survived his own initial hesitancy, gradually began to find the range, power and timing on his pulls and cover-drives, the two shots he has built his game around.

Image: Virat Kohli, second from right, and Rohit Sharma walk off the field during a break in play against the UAE. David Gray/Reuters

Shikhar Dhawan, the man in form for India in the Cup thus far, looked more at ease at the outset than his partner, but fell in a fashion that he has made his own.

The southpaw failed to control the bounce of a Mohammed Naveed delivery outside his off stump; the slashing square punch flared off the top edge and Rohan Mustafa at gully, going airborne with perfect timing, snared the ball in his outstretched right hand.

Virat Kohli has batted well within himself in the first two Cup games, visibly intent on batting himself back into form. Here, against a seam attack that strained to hit the 135 kmph mark, the number three allowed himself greater freedom, stroking drives on the off and flicking through the mid-wicket arc in an approximation of his best touch.

For India, the game turned out to be little more than a light practice session; for the UAE, it was another reminder of the gulf they need to bridge.

India resumed its innings after the mandatory lunch break with 15 runs to get -- and rubbed it in by taking the batting power-play. A square cut off the off spinner Mohammad Tauqir took Rohit Sharma to his 50 (48 balls, 9 fours and 1 six); Kohli mirrored the shot, only finer and cleaner, off Kollengode (Kerala) native Krishna Chandran and India ambled to its target with 9 wickets, and with Rohit blasting a four down the straight field, India ambled to its target for the loss of one wicket.

Virat Kohli, left, and Rohit Sharma touch the grass in synchronisation before they step back out onto the field to resume their innings. David Gray/Reuters

The UAE innings lasted 31.3 overs; when India sealed its 9 wicket win, it had 31.1 overs in hand.

Image: Virat Kohli, left, and Rohit Sharma touch the grass in synchronisation before they step back out onto the field to resume their innings. David Gray/Reuters

PostScript: India and the UAE appear to have settled on a decade-long playing cycle.

The two teams first met on April 13, 1994; their next meeting was July 16, 2004 (the Asia Cup, at Dambulla). Saturday's game, at the WACA, is only their third meeting.

The last time the UAE played against an ICC full member nation was June 26, 2008, in Lahore against Sri Lanka.

Those dates and numbers are relevant in context of the ICC-backed move to 'cut out meaningless games' by reducing the World Cup field to 10 from the 2019 edition onwards, in the process de facto shutting the door on the Associates.

The ongoing debate is centered around whether the Associates are good enough for the quadrennial tournament -- but the real key is what happens in the four-year interregnum between tournaments.

To raise performance levels and, equally importantly, to earn sufficient revenues to afford professional players and decent facilities, the Associates need the full members to give them a game more often than once every ten years.

Else, the talk of increasing the game's footprint is just that: Words, words, no matter from the heart. Or the head.

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Prem Panicker, for Rediff.com