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Time now for the tougher battles

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FIGHTING FIT:Suresh Raina's form in the league stage augurs well for India's chances in the Super Eight stage.
FIGHTING FIT:Suresh Raina's form in the league stage augurs well for India's chances in the Super Eight stage.

S. Dinakar

India's path in the Super Eights is more or less certain

Bridgetown: It's time for high-octane face-offs on an island they call fireball. Barbados is seldom short of action and velocity.

The Indian cricketers had a feel of Barbados' many splendours when they embarked on a journey into the ocean on Tuesday afternoon.

The cricketers appeared relaxed and confident. Harbhajan Singh, a hint of mischief seldom leaving his eyes, was his chirpy self. The in-form Suresh Raina appeared in high spirits as he ventured onto the inviting beach. Piyush Chawla, the one with a spontaneous smile, was bubbly as ever.

Grown in belief

The Indians have grown in belief after coasting through the initial league phase. From here on, the big boys will come into play.

India's path in the Super Eights is more or less certain. Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men could meet Australia at Kensington Oval here (unless Bangladesh comes up with a miracle against the Aussies) on May 7, then take on the West Indies at the same venue on May 9 before travelling to St. Lucia to meet Sri Lanka on May 11.

It could be a tough group; every match represents a challenge in itself. India might need to clinch at least two of the matches to progress into the semifinals. The team will seek inspiration from its indomitable captain Dhoni.

While this explosive cricketer might sport a calm exterior, his intensity and aggression simmer within.

Dhoni can drive his men hard without being abrasive.

The side is optimistic. Team manager Ranjib Biswal, a capable cricketer in his time from Orissa, said, “The mood in the camp is good. The boys are looking forward to the matches. There is strong unity in the side.”

He was pleased about left-handed opener Gautam Gambhir recovering well from a stomach disorder. “He batted without any discomfort at the nets. It is a good sign,” said Biswal.

A fully fit Gambhir is critical to India's chances in the Super Eight. The Indian top-order will need to fire.

India could be up against some high quality fast bowling in this stage. The Aussie pace trio of Shaun Tait, Dirk Nannes and Mitchell Johnson (if he recovers from minor fitness concerns) could be a daunting one.

This is a fast and furious attack where sizzling short-pitched bowling is combined with scorching toe-crushers. Tait, Nannes and Johnson could seek to disrupt the feet movement of the batsmen and then cash in. Once the batsman is pushed onto his back-foot, the yorkers can be deadly.

The fact that Johnson and Nannes are left-armers makes scoring harder for the batsmen. The natural left-armer's angle from over-the-wicket can make it difficult for the batsman to bat freely, with deliveries angling across or straightening.

Throw in some precise short-pitched stuff — these deliveries from the left-arm quicks can follow the batsman making it difficult for him to duck or sway away from the line — and these bowlers are a real handful.

Bouncy tracks

The surfaces at Barbados, from all accounts, should offer more to the quicks than those at the other venues of this ICC World Twenty20. The bounce in the tracks should lead to exciting duels.

The West Indian pacemen, Kemar Roach in particular, could make the Indian batsmen smell leather. It is here that India could miss the mercurial Virender Sehwag who can harness the pace on the ball so effortlessly.

India's final Super Eight clash — against Sri Lanka — would be played at the slower surface in St. Lucia. Actually, the wicket for this match between two sub-continental giants should suit the game-plan of both the sides.

Finally, it boils down to holding one's nerve and winning the key moments. Sides that do not fear losing, end up winning.

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