India put one foot into the World Cup quarter-finals with a five-wicket win against the Netherlands on Wednesday, but the margin of the victory revealed little of their discomfort.
The near-capacity crowd at Feroz Shah Kotla expected a brutal onslaught when Sachin Tendulkar (27) and Virender Sehwag (39) came out to chase down a 190-run victory target against a Dutch team seeking their first win in the tournament.
The 69 runs they plundered in seven-odd overs suggested the chase was following the script when unheralded Pieter Seelar struck three body blows to lay bare the unsuspected vulnerability of the Indian top and middle order.
The 23-year-old spinner remembered more for his penguin dance after dismissing Paul Collingwood in the 2009 Twenty20 World Cup, removed Sehwag, Tendulkar — who completed 2000 World Cup runs — and Yusuf Pathan in quick succession to turn the heat on the hosts.
Dutch skipper Peter Borren also slipped one through Virat Kohli’s porous defence and at 99-4, India’s unbeaten streak seemed in jeopardy.
Fortunately for them, Yuvraj Singh seems to have taken the onus on himself to fix all the ills that plague them.
With the ball, Yuvraj (2-43) once against glossed over the failure of frontline spinners Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla and when the chase was about to derail, he wielded his bat for a cultured unbeaten 51 to steer India home in 36.3 overs.
The result almost guaranteed his side a place in the quarter--finals and should England and West Indies beat Bangladesh and Ireland respectively today, the co-hosts will be through even before they face South Africa in a highly anticipated showdown on Saturday.
Dhoni admitted the team was under pressure at one stage on Wednesday but insisted it was a decent win.
“I think winning is important and it’s not a bad win. When you see the scorecard it says India won by five wickets. It’s a big positive,” he said.
Nothing apparently could really perturb the Indian captain who gave the impression that there were no real worries with his team.
He said the misfiring speed merchants would regain form before the knock-out stage, that Harbhajan has not been among wickets because opponents are content to block him and that preferring Chawla to off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin was justified because the leg-spinner needed the game to regain his confidence.
Reality, however, suggests otherwise.
Barring Zaheer Khan, the pacemen have been lackluster, failing to earn the breakthrough to set the stage for the spinners to step in and wreak havoc.
In the slow bowling department, Yuvraj has been the saving grace, but Dhoni insisted Harbhajan was not doing badly either.
“I think Harbhajan is bowling well. Other teams are blocking him and going after Yuvraj, giving him the wickets in the process. Spinners need to hunt in pairs,” he said.
The ploy to promote Yusuf Pathan (11) to allow him to spend more time in the middle did not click either as the all-rounder lasted just 10 balls.
The Indian bowlers did a decent job on Wednesday, but the abrupt mid-innings collapse convinced Dutch skipper Borren that his team had a realistic chance in the match.
“We played brave cricket today and I’m proud of our effort. Like against England, I think we had our chance of winning the match today,” Borren said.