April 29, 1999
Just before leaving for England, the Indian captain, Mohammad Azzharuddin, remarked that "Batting holds the key" for India's success in the World Cup.
With the weather conditions favoring the bowlers, especially in the first half of the tournament, in May, it makes one wonder as to what could be a healthy, defendable total. The captain winning the toss is expected to opt for fielding first what with the early morning conditions helping the seam bowlers. In the Texaco trophy, a one-day international series played by England against a visiting team every May, the captain winning the toss has opted to field first in 7 out of the 9 matches played in the last three seasons. England has won 6 of the 8 matches which had a result. The first match of the 1996 series against India could not be completed. Both of their losses were against South Africa, who won the Texaco Trophy last season. In 1996, England beat India 2-0, and in 1997 they won 3-0 against Australia.
The team batting second has been the winner in 7 of the 8 matches that had a result. The highest score which has been successfully chased in the last three tournaments is 269 at Lord's in 1997. England, batting second in that match, made 270/4 in 49 overs. In the other matches that year, England successfully chased 170 and 249. In 1996, England had successfully chased 158 (in a 42 over match) and 239, set by India, in the last two matches. The only score that has been successfully defended is 226/9, by South Africa - thanks to Donald's 3/32. In that match, England were off to a good start - 77/2 in 14.1 overs, before Donald, who did not open the bowling, applied the brakes with two quick wickets. In the first match of the 1998 series, South Africa could successfully chase 223, and England, chasing South Africa's 205/8 made 206/3 in 35 overs to win the last match.
From an analysis of the Texaco trophy matches, one wonders what is a good enough total to set while batting first, in May. If the day is sunny and dry, totals of the order of 270 can be chased successfully. However, few matches will see scores over 250, as the weather conditions are expected to aid seam bowling, especially in the first innings. On such days, a total of 230 to 240 can be successfully defended provided the bowling to follow is aggressive, and the fielding tight. Azhar will be hoping to be more lucky with the toss in England, than ever before. With Srinath, Prasad and Agarkar, India has a great seam attack. Prasad will play a key role, and one hopes that his performance at Sharjah keeps his confidence high.
If India are to successfully chase a target over 230, they will have to play out the first few overs cautiously and pace their innings appropriately. In India's opening match, against South Africa, as in all matches, it is extremely important that they don't lose wickets early on. South Africa will most likely use Donald as the first change bowler. A score of 60 to 65 with not more than one wicket lost in the first 15 overs should be a good enough foundation for the middle order to put up a total around 240, which can be successfully defended given the good Indian bowling attack. With a certain amount of application, and aggression, it should not come as a surprise if India beat the favorites, South Africa, in their opening match.
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