Just when, at what point, did India lose the game against England and with it, the berth in the semis?
Was it in the 4th over, when Ravindra Jadeja — a young talent, definitely, but untried at this level — walked out with the team 2/24 on the chase, and used up 35 balls for a scratchy 25 while the likes of Yuvraj Singh [whose first scoring shot was a six], MS Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan were still in the hut? Jadeja was out 10 overs later — and at that time, the score was a mere 85/4, with Gautam Gambhir also having succumbed to manifest felt pressure of a stagnant run rate.
Was it in the 19th over, when Stuart Broad took the ball? For the second time in two World Cups, India was facing England in a must win game and the team was in trouble. The last time this happened, Yuvraj slammed six successive sixes off Stuart Broad to change the game around completely. In this edition of the tournament, Broad had already had the stuffing knocked out of him in course of one disastrous final over when he single handedly managed to miss three run outs and at least one caught-and-bowled in the space of six balls. Here he was facing Yusuf Pathan, and India needed 28/12. Would he crack? In the event, he managed to stuff up yet another ridiculously easy run out — but gave no room at all for either Dhoni or Yusuf to go over the ropes, and ended up with a 9-run over that left India needing 19 from six balls — a hugely creditable effort considering Broad’s history.
Was it when Ishant Sharma, who through this tournament and in particular, in this game, has looked as if he is tired and/or suffering from some physical niggle, was given the 17th over? In contrast to his usual bustle, his walk back to the mark had been painful, labored; his bowling nowhere near par in terms of pace, length or direction. Jadeja had just turned the screws on with a niggardly 16th over that produced 4 runs; Ishant went for 13, and the pressure was slackened again. Ishant ended up the only one of the three seamers to bowl a full quota, while Zaheer and RP Singh, the latter on target in his comeback with a 3-0-13-1 spell, ended up under quota?
Was it when a high class fielding lineup that reads Yuvraj, Raina, Rohit and, in this game, the quick-heeled Jadeja decided to take a day off? The Indians gave, by a conservative estimate, an additional 15 runs in the field. And it was not the runs they gave, so much as the pressure they eased at just the wrong moments. Take, as just one example of many, the final over of the England innings. Harbhajan had taken out two wickets in two balls. The over had cost just 5 runs in five balls. The sixth [and it was not the first time Bajji was doing this on the day] was fired in quick and wide of leg stump — an extra ball, but not in itself disastrous. The ball went straight to short fine leg; the fielder — Yuvraj, no less — bent lazily and let it through. 5 wides resulted. What was the difference between the two sides, again?
Any of these moments and a dozen more besides, would qualify for the mandatory list of ‘stuff-up’ moments — but I’d reckon India lost this game 48 hours before the toss, when Jerome Taylor and Fidel Edwards combined to terrify the Indian batsmen with a sustained pace barrage consistently in excess of 150k.
During these last couple of years of India’s T20 pomp, and even in the face of the defeats this year in various bilateral contests, the one adjective consistently applied to this team, especially by its opponents, was ‘fearless’. They marveled at a lineup powered by a succession of young men who, irrespective of the conditions, the opposition and the game situation, could come out there and thump the ball to electrifying effect — to the point where opposing teams were consistently in awe of the combined abilities of ‘young India.’
Edwards and Taylor changed all that, when they changed their length and went short and hard at the Indians. They showed that this lineup could be intimidated — and others have been swift to pick up on it. England brought in Ryan Sidebottom; at the toss, Paul Collingwood said the intent was to go hot and heavy at the Indian batsmen [where, in earlier days, the opposition would talk of putting a large target on the board and somehow pressurizing the Indian lineup].
The diet of short balls worked. India managed a mere 36/2 in the power plays — a phase that also produced the spectacle of Suresh Raina being greeted by a bouncer he had no clue how to handle, and being taken out off a desperate heave at another short ball 4 deliveries later. After 9 overs, India needed 100 off 66 balls — and at that point, 49 per cent of all deliveries bowled in the innings was short [three-quarter length, good length, fuller length and yorkers altogether made up the rest — and remember that one of those overs was bowled by Pietersen]. Heck, even at their gentler pace, Broad and Luke Wright bowled more short balls than length.
The tournament is over for India, and now the tough part kicks in. Considering all that has gone before, the media backlash is going to be huge — there are in the press box enough journalists pissed off with Dhoni and his team for their brusque, even contemptuous, handling of recent attempts to whip up controversy. A losing team is a target of opportunity, so the ‘boys’ can look forward to some interesting reading matter over their morning coffee and sunny-side-up over the next few days. In fact, there are already demands that the team “answer to the nation” — demands no one makes of the Federal government, incidentally, but believe are completely appropriate for what after all is a sport.
That is the minor, and temporary, problem. The bigger one is that this tactic will now become institutionalized — and India needs to find answers, fast. One of the answers is in surgery — specifically Virender Sehwag’s. The short ball was supposed to be his greatest weakness, but the opener worked on that one in the nets, and now handles them with, if not grace and poise, a certain crude effectiveness. That coupled with his aggression at the top puts bowlers on the back foot and prevents them from the sort of sustained aggression on view yesterday.
But the ‘when Viru returns all will be well’ theory will only get the team so far; what it really needs is a rethink of its lineup and individual responsibilities. For starters, IMHO, they have to find a way to get Rohit back to number three before they bat him completely out of form — the sheen has long since worn out from that warm-up knock that in popular imagination enshrined him as the answer to Viru’s absence. His opening slot is a band aid solution at best, but it carries with it the danger of his losing the fluency he had brought to the number three slot.
Suresh Raina has some intense net time ahead of him [and in Gary Kirsten he has someone with the knowledge of coping with the quick lifting ball] before he bats high up the order against a quick attack in alien conditions — but in the interim, he’ll likely need to go down the order, and face the softer ball where bowlers look for the fuller, not shorter, length.
Tuesday’s game against South Africa is a good time to start working on things — so, here’s my out of the box team for that game: Gautam Gambhir, Irfan Pathan, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni/Suresh Raina [the game conditions and bowling to determine who walks in], Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Pragyan Ojha, RP Singh, Zaheer Khan.
If we are talking band aid solutions, why waste Rohit? Why not Irfan, who has the physical courage, technical courage and the height to handle the lifting deliveries? That reverts Rohit to his natural position; Yuvraj at four gets enough room to express himself; and India end up with three seamers [Irfan is the weak link admittedly, but the advantage is that he doesn’t have to be used for the full quota]’, two regular attacking spinners, and part time spin options in Yusuf, Suresh and Rohit [while on that, it is somewhat strange that neither of them has been used here, despite their very good work in the IPL].
A friend was telling me this morning that interest in the T20 WC is now dead.
Not really — I really want to see how India goes against South Africa, which has the look of champions about it; I want to see just how far England can take its sudden and unexpected revival; above all, I want to see how far the West Indies can ride its momentum, and whether it is the sign of revival or an aberrant phase before the next spell of somnolence kicks in.