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India’s Fingers Crossed Over Sehwag And Zaheer

By on June 5, 2009

icc world twenty20 zaheer khan

Despite their handsome victory against Pakistan on Wednesday evening, India are still sweating on the fitness of their two key players Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan. Sehwag, who is yet to bat on the tour, is suffering from a niggle to his right shoulder while Zaheer is on the recovery path from the shoulder injury to his bowling arm, picked up in the IPL.

Captain MS Dhoni sounded ambiguous last evening when asked about Sehwag’s fitness. “To be honest I don’t know. He could be [fit] for the second game, but we will see.”

The Indians, having landed last Friday, had a couple of optional practice sessions before playing two warm-up games against New Zealand and Pakistan. Sehwag was present at the first nets session but did not bat and missed out on the practice matches. “The physio is still working on Viru [Sehwag],” a team source said.

Dhoni was more straightforward in his assessment of Zaheer’s injury and was optimistic the strike bowler would be back in action soon. “We have seen improvement,” Dhoni said. “He has started bowling but I don’t know at what intensity. Hopefully he will be fit for the game on June 10 [against Ireland]. Even if he is fit for the June 6 game against Bangladesh, we don’t want to risk him for the first game.”

Based on their mixed results in the two warm-up games, where the victory against Pakistan offset the initial defeat against New Zealand, Dhoni would look forward to the return of both key men eagerly.

Talking about the grey areas, Dhoni pointed out the weak bowling in the death overs. Against New Zealand the pair of RP Singh and Irfan Pathan leaked 31 in the final two overs. Matters didn’t improve much in the Pakistan game too, when the two final overs from RP and Praveen Kumar went for 29.

“We did not bowl in the last two overs once again very well (against Pakistan),” Dhoni said. “We are trying to bowl yorkers and it didn’t work out.”

Captains and coaches have insisted the initial six overs (the Powerplay) and the final few overs are the two critical points where teams have won or lost matches. In such a scenario, Zaheer’s presence becomes crucial with his proven ability to swing the momentum in India’s favour at any point in the innings. Ishant Sharma has shown similar potency to strike at all times, but he needs support if India have to stop the opposition from building large totals. Dhoni mentioned he would like to play two specialist spinners but not at the expense of a batsman as the slow bowlers were key on the flat pitches in England.

Even if Rohit Sharma has slipped easily into the opening slot, Dhoni knows Sehwag remains the key with his ability to provide blazing starts, a big plus in Twenty20 cricket. Even if he is reluctant to concede, Dhoni knows only too well the consequences of pushing Sehwag into the middle-order. But he is too smart to reveal his cards and would be happy for the opponents to play the guessing game.

“Frankly speaking, I don’t know. It’s better to have a problem of plenty than nothing. As of now, I dont know the batting order,” was his roundabout reply.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

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