TORONTO - Itís crunch time for the big guns in the Cricket World Cup. Coaches and captains are busy working out their game plans and strategies as the group matches wind down before the quarter-finals.
With the possible exception of Bangladesh, the eight spots should be filled by Test-playing countries unless those fighting Irish turn the tournament on its head again and send home one of the favoured teams.
The next few days hold the key to the forthcoming matchups in the knockout phase of the tournament where Group A winner faces the fourth-placed team in Group B and vice-versa. Favoured India, for example, wouldnít want to meet Australia, nor would South Africa want to face Sri Lanka so they will all be jockeying for positions.
India is well on its way to finishing on top of Group B following a five-wicket victory Wednesday over the Netherlands at Delhiís Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium before a sell-out crowd of 30,000 who lustily cheered every boundary struck by their heroes.
This was Indiaís last opportunity to get its act together before remaining matches against South Africa and the West Indies, two of its more formidable opponents. Judging by Wednesdayís lineup, Indiaís skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni has decided he will play two pacemen and two specialist spinners as they move ahead.
While Zaheer Khan has been the pick of Indiaís bowling with his pace, Indiaís spinners have been disappointing. They have so far failed to take on the attacking, wicket-taking role which will be critical in the next few weeks.
This should be a major concern for India as Harbhajan Singh, one of the best wizards of spin, seems more focused on tying up the opposition as he did Wednesday. He conceded a measly 31 runs off his 10 overs, but it is worrisome that he has taken only two wickets in the previous three matches.
His partner Piyush Chawla, on the other hand, has been gushing runs like a waterfall. Wednesday, though, the leggie took two for 47 and, hopefully, this will boost his confidence. Thankfully for India, Yuvraj Singh has filled in admirably as a slow spin bowler.
The importance of fielding world-class spinners is and has been the key to success on the subcontinent in the past, even though Australia is determined to debunk that fact by placing all of its chips on sheer speed.
A quick glance at the chart for most wickets in this tournament is headed by two spinners ó Pakistanís Shahid Afridi and South Africaís Imran Tahir, who broke a finger in his non-bowling hand at nets Wednesday, but is expected to play against India on Saturday.
India warmed up for that encounter with a lacklustre win over the Dutch with a little more than 14 overs to spare. On paper, it was an emphatic victory. But it wasnít. The Dutch part-timers made India sweat just as Ireland did last week.
The Dutch won the toss and put on 189 with skipper Peter Borren leading the way with an exciting 38 that included 17 runs off one over from Chawla.
Indiaís Virender Sehwag (39) and Sachin Tendular (27) hammered 69 for the first wicket, but India was then tied down by Dutch spinner Pieter Seelar who took three for 53. Tendulkarís innings took him past 2,000 runs in the World Cup, the most by any batsman.
Yuvraj Singh, with his third half-century in three matches, and Dhoni (19) then guided India home.