India bowlers get job done against West Indies to secure World Cup quarter-finals berth

Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami dominate with the new ball to send champions into the World Cup quarter-finals, writes Dileep Premachandran

Indian fielder Umesh Yadav takes a catch to dismiss West Indies batsman Lendl Simmons during their cricket World Cup Pool B match in Perth on March 6, 2015. Tony Ashby / AFP
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March 27, 1994, was Holi Day, India’s annual festival of colours. At Eden Park in Auckland, Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath and Salil Ankola combined to skittle New Zealand for just 142.

All these years later, hardly anyone remembers that. They do, though, recall what happened next.

Opening the batting for the first time, Sachin Tendulkar stroked 15 fours and two sixes in a 49-ball 82. For much of Indian cricket’s Tendulkar era, the narrative tended to be that way, with the bowlers relegated to near afterthoughts.

Even with Tendulkar retired, Indian cricket does not lack for batting heroes.

Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane have already left their mark on this World Cup, but on Holi Day in Perth, it was the turn of the bowlers to take centre stage.

On a fast Waca Ground pitch that exhibited some variable bounce, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami were magnificent with the new ball.

Chris Gayle and Dwayne Smith barely put bat to ball in the early exchanges as it zipped through from just short of a length.

Both Yadav and Shami bowled with genuine pace but, more importantly, they stuck to a consistent length that made it hard for the batsmen to swing comfortably. When they did, they usually found the edge.

Gayle took two fours and a six as he tried to counterattack, but a miscued pull was taken in the deep as the West Indies slumped to 35 for three, then 85 for seven.

India, who had dropped just one catch in three previous games, had a poor day in the field, dropping several chances of varying degrees of difficulty.

But the support bowling was excellent, with Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja able to attack and consolidate at the same time, even as Mohit Sharma again slotted perfectly into the third seamer's role.

Jason Holder added 39 with Darren Sammy and 51 with Jerome Taylor, but the total of 182 was at least 50 below par.

In the game that changed Indian cricket history, the 1983 World Cup final, they had defended 183 against the West Indies. This time, they had to chase it to confirm a quarter-final berth.

Taylor's lively first spell, which accounted for Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, at least gave his team a sniff, but Kohli and then MS Dhoni ensured there would be no banana-skin slip.

Kohli, like Jadeja, fell to the pull and, had Dhoni not been around, alarm bells might have been ringing at 134 for six.

But despite recent indifferent form, India’s captain is a man who tends to deliver when his team need it. A composed, unbeaten 45 closed out the game with 65 balls ­remaining.

The West Indies do not play their final group game, against the United Arab Emirates, until March 15, but Holder seemed strangely reluctant to test his quicks in the final stages.

When Taylor bowled his eighth over, India were 138 for six. He was not seen again, with Marlon Samuels and Smith, who plays for Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League, given the last five overs of the match.

On a day when he drew level with Mohammad Azharuddin on 174 ODIs as captain of India, Dhoni moved past Sourav Ganguly with his 59th win away from home.

India have group games against Ireland and Zimbabwe to come, but many supporters’ eyes will turn to Pool A and the tussle for fourth place between Bangladesh and England.

India will almost certainly play their quarter-final in Melbourne, and the title defence that started on such shaky ground is beginning to gather momentum.

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