They say fortune favours the brave, and I must say that fortune has favoured this Indian team in the World Cup because they have played brave cricket.
If India had been given a choice of which team they would like to have played in the quarterfinal, it would have been Bangladesh, and I say this with no disrespect to the Bangladeshi team. I have been extremely impressed by the way Bangladesh have performed in this competition. They have raised their game by at least two notches. One of the things that has struck me about this team is how calm and composed it is in tight situations. In the past, we have seen teams from Bangladesh get excited and carried away. When you get emotional in the middle, you often end up making the wrong decisions. The senior group within the Bangladesh ranks must be commended for keeping their heads in a crisis, and the youngsters have fed off the calmness of the experienced players.
You could make out Bangladesh’s intentions from the intensity they have brought to the game. They were extremely focused against England, knowing that victory would assure them of a place in the quarterfinal. Mahmudullah played intelligently on his way to becoming the first Bangladeshi to score a century in the World Cup, and then the bowling group was excellent in defending 275. I thought Rubel Hossain was exceptional, and the manner in which he stepped-in in the final overs to bowl his team to victory was heartening.
As if to show that their victory against England was no flash in the pan, Bangladesh nearly put it past New Zealand too in their final game. It needed some solid late hitting for New Zealand to get over the line, but Mahmudullah was again in great touch with another hundred, and the bowlers kept picking up wickets. Even if New Zealand eventually squeaked home, Bangladesh’s performances in the last two matches have changed the perception of people about the team. They have gained tremendous respect by qualifying for the knockout stages, and several of the players have made a mark for themselves.
Despite all this, I still back India to come through unscathed. I know that every time India meet Bangladesh in the World Cup, everyone goes back to 2007 and what happened in Port of Spain. This Indian side bears no resemblance to that team whose morale was so low right from the start of the competition. Even though Bangladesh are playing their best cricket, this is a happy Indian side that has mastered the art of winning crunch games.
From now onwards, this is almost an entirely new tournament. There are no second chances. It’s a do-or-die situation and everyone will look to up the tempo further. There simply is no room for mistakes or slip-ups.
When the bowlers do well, it allows the batsmen to go in with a positive frame of mind. It also allows MS Dhoni the freedom of thinking with a clear mind about things. This great balance of spirit between bowling and batting must be sustained for India to go all the way.