Every team in the World Cup is fast learning that they cannot always depend on the top-three to score big, and that the rest need to play useful cameos. See what happened to Australia against West Indies. They lost half their side way before they got to 100. It was left to No 8 Nathan Coulter-Nile to smash a record 60-ball 92 to save them.
Guided by his former captain Steve Smith, Coulter-Nile saw to it the Australians had enough runs to bowl their side to victory by 15 runs.
Who knows? The Indians could also end up in a similar situation if they are asked to bat in overcast conditions. Can the middle-order rise to the occasion, or can someone in the lower order do a Coulter-Nile?
Coulter-Nile has always suffered from a persecution complex for the fear of getting dropped from the squad because the Australians have a rich collection of fast bowlers. He is not as disappointed at not getting a hundred as he is worried about playing the next match! He knows his blazing knock may not save his place in the team that will play India on Sunday, because he is there for his bowling. He returned without a wicket in both the matches Australia played.
Two class bowlers are waiting to get in if Coulter-Nile trips up: Jason Behrendorff and Kane Richardson.
Like Coulter-Nile, Bhuvneshwar Kumar is also looking over his shoulder, with Mohammed Shami snapping at his heels. True to Virat Kohli’s habit of springing surprises, he preferred the calculated Bhuvneshwar to the pacy Shami.
India will be playing Australia at the Oval, where the pitch has some disconcerting tennis-ball bounce, and is spongy. That straightaway makes for the chance for fast bowlers to flex their muscles.
Australia have Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and any of the other three pacers in support. Will Kohli be tempted to play three fast bowlers, adding Shami to make it a four-pronged pace attack? Yuzvendra Chahal will then be the lone recognised spinner and Kedar Jadhav will be doing a little more than a part-timer. Kohli might even think of strengthening the batting by playing Ravindra Jadeja. That means dropping Kuldeep Yadav. That’s not a good idea in the long run as it would unnerve the chinaman.
South Africa, like Australia, were in trouble against India, losing half the side for 89. Again Nos 7 to 9 batted to get them a decent total of 227. No 8 Chris Morris top-scored with 42. They were rocked by Jasprit Bumrah’s initial spell when he kept the batsmen on the hop and dismissed the dependable Hashim Amla and the in-form Quinton de Kock.
Rohit Sharma was unusually calm and calculative, cutting off some of his risky strokes to make sure he stayed till the end. Kohli thought this was Rohit’s best hundred by far. It’s difficult to agree with the captain, but then he is looking at the situation when he himself got out cheaply with Kagiso Rabada on the rampage.
Kohli will be hoping his favourite No 4 KL Rahul will also take care of the mode of his dismissals to build a big innings. Just when he looked like he was going along well in Southampton, he invented a silly push to end his innings tamely.
It is going to be a tough match in London and the chances of Australia collapsing a second time so soon is expecting too much. They have played Indian spinners in recent months and should be confident of taking them on. The Indian bowlers will also be looking forward to exploit the bounce on the wicket.
The team management will think twice before disturbing the winning combination.
(The writer is a veteran commentator and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)