Tuesday, June 16, 2009

India's exit from T20 World Cup: A Post-Mortem

As Team India marked its exit from the T20 World Cup, there have been wide-scale dissections and digging up in formulating a post-mortem of the campaign. The media is spearheading in the role as the sole sentinel of Indian cricket. Therefore, it is important to analyze the Indian campaign in right perspective and take some sense, beyond the frenzy unleashed by the media that is baying for blood by calling for Dhoni's head. Any loss is heart-breaking, and that too going out unable to defend the crown is all the more depressing. So, the analysis has to take the disappointment of the fans also into consideration.

Let us begin with the negatives first. It is agreed that Dhoni and the team management faltered in the crucial game against England. But before stating that emphatically, it is also important to understand that it was only a continuation of the loss a couple of nights before at the same ground against the Windies. Some former players argue that Dhoni faltered in choosing his option at the toss and the decision to put England in was an error in judgement. In fact, they say this mistake at the beginning set in motion things which spiralled down at the end of the match. However, I would beg to differ. In their first game at Super Eights, India had batted against the Windies. But the result was there for every one to see. T20 is an unpredictable format, and teams batting first are generally never sure of the ideal target to be set. While more than 150-160 is very important, that's not a sure-shot target giving any rise in the comfort levels. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the bowlers to defend totals. But this also comes with the rider that putting low totals on the board, do no help to the bowlers. If one sees the day when India played the West Indies, Sri Lanka also played against Pakistan. The Lankans defended a total of around 150 by applying the pressure and taking wickets, while the Indians failed in their efforts to do so. So, Dhoni may have well thought that chasing was a better option, with a strong batting going down to number eight. Indeed, the target against England was also perfectly gettable. Sending Jadeja up the order is another point of contention in such a crucial match. In fact, many have argued even against his selection in the first place, replacing in-form Pragyan Ojha. However, again I would like to contend this. Ravindra Jadeja, an all-rounder with handy left-arm spin is a good pick in a format like T20. The role of spinners in T20 is getting greater prominence in stopping the flow of runs as well as to break crucial partnerships. Jadeja also proved this with his two wickets of Bopara and Pieterson at a time when the duo was looking ominous. However, the argument that Irfan Pathan could have filled that role equally with ease, is without any doubt true. But his leaking of runs has been a perennial concern now, even though with the bat, he is very effective.

However, on him being sent up the order, I feel the team management faltered. By keeping three of the best batsmen-Yuvraj, Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan-towards the near-end certainly pushed matters to the brink. The relative inexperience of Jadeja caught up with him and his failure to rotate the strike cost the Indians hard. With an ever-increasing required rate, there was little for the Indians to do than to rue the decision. Even the pressure was visible on Jadeja's face, as he tried valiantly for the big hits, but ended up consuming lots of dot balls in the process. In T20, such 'consumption' only proves too costly. This also did not favour Yuvraj, who was the ideal person for such situations. Hence, with not enough time to get a feel of the prevalent situation, the game became a quick sand for the Men in Blue. The dismissal of Yuvraj to a good stumping of Foster really hit the nail on India's prospects. Even Dhoni and Yusuf could not save the match at this point. But it was the failure of the Indians to deal with the short-pitched stuff in two consecutive matches that rankles the most. Both the Windies and the Englishmen peppered the Indians with short of length balls along with slow and high bouncers to rattle the Indians. The dismissal of Rohit Sharma, India's makeshift opener in the place of Sehwag, in both matches proves this point beyond doubt. The opposition sorted India out, with their best weakness, proving to be their Achilles' Heel. Even Suresh Raina, who loves to pull and hook, threw his wickets away to Sidebottom.

Dhoni's batting and keeping have also come under the scanner. His inability to get the big hits is an area of concern no doubt. So, is a slight dip in his keeping skills, wherein against the Windies, he made mess of a run-out chance against Dwayne Bravo. But it is not Dhoni alone who has faltered. The overall bowling of the Indians also lacked aggression and penetration. Ishant's problems in the shortest version of the game were again visible. Zaheer never looked 100% fit, which may be due to the fact the shoulder injury may not have been fully healed. R.P. Singh and Praveen Kumar never got enough chances. Perhaps another negative of Dhoni in this tournament that I feel is the fact that he did not allow his frontline bowlers to finish their quota of overs. R.P.Singh bowled one over less against England; but I also feel that it R.P.Singh was a pale shadow of himself in the IPL last month, for the Deccan Chargers. While Harbhajan and Ojha bolwed well, the bowlers on the whole gave away needless runs with wayward and indisciplined bowling. Also, the bowling in the death also remains an area of concern for India. In pressure situations, giving away crucial runs tells alltogether a different story. The batting also did not live up to the expectations of the 'Super Unit' tag. That killer punch and authority was not visible. The overall fielding of the Indians also dipped, with shoddy work on the field, thereby leaking many runs.

However, the post-mortem also has to negate certain wrong theories and faulty formulations. One of them is the fact that the IPL had a drastic effect on Indians, causing them mental fatigue and thus, tiring them out. Long hours of endless cricket with constant travelling also are pointed out as factors. Even coach Kirsten feels the same way. Some players also carried injuries from IPL into the tournament. However, blaming IPL for this disappointing show is going overboard. To substantiate my point, let me point out that apart from India-whose entire squad featured in IPL's 2nd Season-South Africa had most members in IPL. Almost their entire squad represented one franchisee or the other. However, they were never hit by fatigue and are playing some wonderful cricket. All the players have mentioned IPL as having been the best platform for practice for the World T20. Modern cricket is all about professionalism and adapting to situations in the best possible manner. I agree with Dhoni that using IPL as an excuse can never be justified. It is the individual choice of players to choose their options in either playing for or keeping themselves away from tourneys like IPL. To carry this further, take a look at the Australians, many of whom kept away from IPL this season. People like Ponting, Mike Hussey and Mitchell Johnson. Has 'ample rest' done them any good?? on the contrary, the 'rest' only 'rusted' them as they made an ignominious exit from the first round itself. unlike Indians who made their way out after Round Two. I also feel the loss of a dangerous batsman like Sehwag from the tournament due to injury also dented India's chances. A batsman at the top of the order to tear apart the opposition bowling attack, who could accelerate the team totals, Sehwag's presence would have pressurized teams right from the start. Rohit Sharma despite his best efforts, could not fit into Sehwag's shoes. Neither could Gambhir take on the mantle from Sehwag. His grind with the bat was more like the 50 over version.

Calling for Dhoni's head for this crucial loss, is again above rationality and going over-board. It is the same Dhoni who was the poster boy of the media, over the past few seasons. Winning the inaugural T20 World Cup, the series in Australia, the home series against the Aussies, Pakistan and England, taming the Lankans twice in their den and also winning in New Zealand for the first time after many years are all under the astute leadership of Dhoni. Leading the team effectively and ably supported by them, Dhoni has augmented a further leap started by Ganguly. The combination with Kirsten has also served the team well. The media, whose rumour mills were abound with theories of rift between him and his Sehwag were also set at rest by him, with the show of unity at press conference. Not fearing to call spade a spade, Dhoni may have also got the ire of the media. But the fact that Sehwag was seriously carrying an injury also proved the point that the captain was indeed right.

The time is seeking a rational analysis of this loss. Perhaps the pressure of being the 'Defending Champions' also got to India. The time now is to put behind this loss and take lessons from it. There is a need to iron out flaws too. Instead of the frenzy being unleashed, it would do a lot of good to the Indian cricket, if the cricketers are allowed to get back refreshed and more aggressive.

No comments: