India has made it to the quarterfinals of the World Cup...One Hindi TV channel sports anchor could barely remain in his chair – the expert rambled on about how this was a great achievement, and I sat there baffled.
Baffled - because I was at my in-laws in Lucknow, a city where Holi seems to have combined with cricket to make for a very heady mix...bat-shaped pichkaris, gulaal packets branded ‘Howzat’ (presumably, the this colour intended to shock and ask questions of people playing with it!). I understand all the gimmicks work if India keep winning – so it makes for good business, but this general euphoria about India in the knock out stages is inexplicable… The last edition where India were sent home early couldn’t have scarred the nation so, could it?
Baffled – because had anyone in their wildest dreams imagined India not making it to the knock out stages. In one breath Dhoni and his men are talked about the favourites to win the cup (apart from patriotism, I’d like to know the cricketing sense behind that rating) – and the next moment such joy because they’ve made it to the quarter finals.
Nevertheless, India has made it to the quarterfinals and now plays Australia...so what next?
Borrowing a tentacle from the great oracle of Octopus Paul fame, I hereby predict an exit...I’d love to be proved wrong, but I just feel that Ponting’s Punters aren’t going to lose twice in a row. Pakistan beat them comfortably, the first time an Australian side has lost in a World Cup match in 12 years, but that’s all there is to it. The men from down under are a fine one-day side, and though they may not be as dominant as the side 7-8 years ago, they are still a force to reckon with especially in the limited overs game.
If the men bleed blue (Sachin seems ready to bleed anything, as long as the cup is his) and get past Australia, then Pakistan may be the team next in line. There’s been little international cricket played across the LoC, but their ‘Love of Cricket’ is undiminished. So is the erratic-yet-brilliant nature of the team. I must confess I am thoroughly enjoying watching them – especially their bowling – with Afridi and Umar Gul in fine form. India has never lost to Pakistan in the World Cup – but I have a feeling, they just might start this time…
So why am I so skeptical about our chances? And before questions are raised about my patriotism, may I just reiterate that I’d love to be proved wrong just this once and see India raise the cup. But here are 5 reasons why I think India hasn’t got what it takes to win the cup….
1. Inconsistent Batting – India hasn’t chased at all in this World Cup barring a match or two against minor teams. And when it has the famed batting line-up has struggled. Batting first India has set up decent totals, but not huge ones. England got to 325-odd to tie the match, South Africa chased down almost 300. Remember, in the match against south Africa, after the start India got, there was talk of a 400-plus score but from about 260-1, the batsmen collapsed.
2. Sachin, Sehwag and then? – Only the openers seem to be clicking for India in this World Cup...Gambhir has played well in streaks and so has Yuvraj with two 50s. But the rationale for dropping Virat Kohli to number 4, or sometimes even 5 is something beyond me. It is like tampering with the only player in the batting line-up who has performed consistently well in that spot over the last 12 months.
3. Yusuf Pathan – Clearing the boundary on large South African grounds seems to have created an impression in the minds of people and selectors alike – this man is a match-winner. On his day, so is may be the young rookie , who has one or two 1st class matches under his belt, but that is not the point. Is Pathan a consistent performer, and the answer, as statistics would bear it, is NO. Strike rates are a good thing – you cannot win matches on strike rates alone, you need to bother the scorer ever so often and put runs on the board. And Pathan bowls a bit – ‘a bit’ being the operative phrase here...in 5 matches he has just 1 wicket, an average of about 150 and an economy of around 5 runs an over. The batting fairy seems to have deserted his and taken her little glass-bat – Pathan the Mighty now has a very mortal 63 runs from his 5 innings, some of them batting at number 4.
4. Bowlers required, please apply to Team India – So you put up a score of 300 you need bowlers to defend it...you also need bowlers to restrict other teams to manageable par-scores should you be chasing. Even Bangladesh got over 280 against our bowling attack – so what can we defend? Let’s face it, apart from Zaheer, we haven’t got a class act. Munaf tries, Nehra (especially after South Africa) is a No-No, Sreesanth, just scary. In the twist-and-turns department, Harbhajan is the only act that seems to be on the stage, Chawla hit out of the park, and fill-ins like Yuvraj getting some stick and some laughs. And when it comes to getting 13-14 runs of the last over, teams have started fancying themselves against India – we have no bowler who knows how to keep it tight at ‘the death’.
5. Batting power plays – There is something about power plays that gets India all tied up in knots. Our team doesn’t bleed blue – it just bleeds and gives us the blues – wickets tumble in a heap, everyone scrambles for the pavilion – and the commentators and experts, for cover, revising their analysis ball-by-ball. In the match against South Africa, India lost 4 wickets in the crucial power play for just 30 runs...starting a collapse in which 9 wickets fell for just 29 runs - and India couldn’t even bat out its full quota of overs. Perhaps team India is too predictable in its use of the power play – why can’t we take it in, may be, the 25th over and ask a few questions of the opposition skipper which force him to make strategy changes. Taking it anywhere after 38 is expected - between 40 and 45 is anticipated and therefore bowling combinations, etc are worked out far-far in advance. I am willing to concede that the batting Powerplay has proved a puzzle for most teams, not knowing whether to take it when the going is good or when they need to find a way out of a mess. But at least teams from outside the subcontinent seem to be experimenting with the mix…
So feast your eyes on India and knock yourself out, before Dhoni and his boys manage to knock themselves out…