There seems little enough to say about a series in which India, buzzing with the recently discovered ambition of topping the one day table, lost to an Australia missing an entire eleven. Ricky Ponting wasn’t exaggerating — well okay, maybe just a little bit — when he said the series win ranks among the really special moments he has been part of. The money quote:
“India is a hard place to come and win and this victory means a lot, especially when you haven’t got all your players to pick from. It makes it even harder when players are getting off planes and turning up and playing. No one’s shirking and no one’s whining, we have just got on with it and tried to do the best that we could.”
If the Australian effort in this series classically defines ‘collective effort’, the Indian performance has been the reverse. And again, MS Dhoni nails the problem:
“We haven’t backed the opportunities that we have got. A majority of the batsmen haven’t contributed at the same time,” Dhoni said. “In the games where our top order didn’t perform, our middle order also didn’t bat well. In the end we have lost the series. We have done well in patches in this series but we haven’t grabbed the opportunities.”
Bingo. There have been some individual performances of note and, from Sachin Tendulkar, one for the ages. But through this series, the team has consistently failed to perform as a unit. If Australia proved to be greater than the sum of its parts, India got its arithmetic wrong and somehow managed, in most games, to be less.
There’s one more game to go before Australia leaves and India turns its attention to a Sri Lankan team seeking to conquer its ‘Final Frontier’ [now where have we heard that before?]. Post mortems [including here] will likely proliferate after the final game of the series; so also calls for the head of this, that or the other player.
The problem for India’s captain and the team management, I suspect, lie elsewhere. A year and a half ago, the Dhoni-led team had one of its finest moments, when it defeated Australia 3-2. Australia then had Gilchrist and Hayden at the top, followed by Ponting, Clarke, Symonds and Hussey; and Lee, Johnson, Bracken and Stuart Clark leading the bowling. The batting lineup India fielded then read Sehwag, Tendulkar, Gambhir, Yuvraj, Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni. Raina for Rohit is the only change, and that argues a remarkably settled team.
That team won games it wasn’t supposed to; this one has lost at least two games it should have won. And that is the question the team management will have to find answers for, right quick: If the personnel has remained largely unaltered, what then has changed? On that tour and indeed for the most part of Dhoni’s captaincy, we celebrated the new-found ‘team ethos’ — so what caused an erosion of that quality?
It is this question I’d love to see answered, when the post mortem reports are filed at the end of this series. While waiting for those, appreciate your thoughts.