Prior to the game against South Africa, India were unbeaten in the World Cup. However, that was in no way an indication of their prowess in the tournament. After all, they laboured their way to beat Bangladesh, Netherlands and Ireland, hardly enough to inspire confidence in the team. Also, against England, they just about managed to tie the humdinger despite putting up a mammoth total on board. And so, it was the loss against the Proteas that put things into perspective for MS Dhoni and his men. It was a performance that shocked the entire nation, particularly the manner in which the middle and lower order of the Indian team capitulated when there was no pressure at all. In fact, they were on top of the South Africans until them, and should have shut the door on them. Instead, they threw it all away and allowed South Africa to come back. From thereon, India were always playing catch up.
The problem areas
Power play batting
For the second time in the tournament, India made heavy weather of the power play overs and allowed to opposition to come back into the game when, ideally, they should have edged ahead. Against England they somehow managed to escape with a draw. But, clearly, the lessons weren’t learnt. As Dhoni admitted after the loss against South Africa, the batsmen need to stop playing to the galleries. And he was right. The power play doesn’t mean that you have to go hammer tongs after every ball. If only the batsmen had shown restraint, India would have been in an extremely strong position in the game. In fact, they could have even batted out the Proteas. Some of the strokes played were rash to say the least. And though Dhoni did not name the men ‘who play to the galleries’, the shots played by Yuvraj Singh and Yusuf Pathan certainly made the message clear. Having been bitten twice, it is about time India learns their lessons else they will have to face further embarrassment. The likes of Kohli and Pathan need to be more consistent for India in the middle order. Having said that, Dhoni also needs to share a part of the blame for the debacle. Too much chopping changing doesn’t always benefit the team. And sending Kohli and Pathan up and down the order consistently hasn’t done wonders for either of the batsman or the team. To be fair to the Indian skipper, this is a strategy that has done wonders for India in the past. But, now that it hasn’t worked in this tournament, it is something which should be shunned unless under extreme circumstances.
Set players must bat through
In both the games against England and South Africa, Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir registered centuries and half-centuries respectively. But, on both the occasions the two fell in the power play overs. This is something which hurt India in a big way in both the games. In the game against South Africa, in particular, their loss proved to have a devastating effect. Here again, India need to learn their lesson. At least one of the set batsmen needs to bat through the 50 overs and the rest can bat around them and then may be the runs could flow a lot more smoothly. With both Tendulkar and Gambhir falling in quick succession against South Africa, India suddenly found two new men at the crease. And, that is the least ideal thing they needed. Once that happened a team like South Africa wasn’t going to let the advantage slip. Unlike India, they strangled India thanks to a superb match winning spell by speedster Dale Steyn. The fast bowler had a torrid time against Sehwag and Tendulkar. However, once he came back, he was a totally different bowler and the Indians just crumbed under the pressure. This is something they need to beware of in the future games.
Apart from Zaheer Khan, the Indian bowlers have struggled to make any kind of an impact. Of course, Harbhajan Singh did make an impact and got among the wickets. But, he still isn’t at his best. Even so, India can expect Khan and Singh to deliver in crunch situations. But, it is the others who are the worries. Ashish Nehra bowled the last over against South Africa. And it was such a bad one under pressure that immediately his place in the team is under the hammer. Of course, it would be highly unfair to blame Nehra for the loss. But, with the kind of experience he possesses and the fact that the Proteas’ lower order batsmen were at the crease, he should have done a lot better. His talent cannot be doubted for sure, but questions ought to be raised about his temperament when the heat is on. And the signs weren’t great against South Africa. Munaf Patel too hasn’t been consistent enough to inspire confidence, although, on current form, he seems a safer bet compared to the left-arm seamer. The problem with the pace attack is that they don’t have much options left. Look who is in the reserves, the one and only S. Sreesanth. And the way the Kerala paceman performed against Bangladesh as well as his up and down consistency, would mean having him in the team would be a risk, Dhoni probably cannot afford now. Another major issue is that the Indian attack doesn’t have an out and out fast bowler. See what Steyn did to the Indians the other day. If only India had someone in the similar would, their worries would have been reduced to quite an extent. However, there is no point in pondering about what isn’t there. The fact is that Dhoni has to make do with the resources at his disposal and utilize them to the best of their ability.
The (Ash)win question
This is the query on every Indian’s minds. Why isn’t Dhoni trying out off spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. It is not as if the offie is going to work a miracle or something. But, Dhoni has tried out everyone and Ashwin too deserves a chance on the same count. Hopefully, that opportunity will come against West Indies.
The only positive for the Indians to come out of the shocking loss to South Africa is that it came at the perfect time. They still have one game to go against West Indies before the quarter finals, to which they are most likely to make it unless some crazy calculations upset everything. The Proteas humbling should serve as the wake up call for the Indians.
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