WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT INDIA

India’s biggest letdown of the 2012 T20 World Championships came in their second group game against England. Ironically, it was a match that they won by their biggest ever T20 margin- but it also laid the foundation for yet another disappointing World Cup exit.

‘Did Duncan web-check in? Where is he?’

truth, as soon as India beat Afghanistan by a mere 22 runs with their first-choice team, many fans and experts knew that this was not to be our year again- barring a miracle or two. The game against England was the biggest red herring of India’s campaign, fooling them into believe that their good day was good enough to thrash the best in the business.

England were never going to be a serious contender this time, and the emotions generated by the comeback of Harbhajan Singh wiped out any possibility of practical team-selections during the Super 8s. The dizzy highs of the England match was not surprisingly followed by the pitiful depths of the Australia thrashing- a game not many of us will forget for a long time.

Going in with the same team against a top-heavy Australian order that displayed no fear and nerves after being humiliated for most of this year, was an instinctive decision that was meant to conform to winning convention. Why would anybody want to change a team that embarrassed the world champions in such a convincing fashion? The truth is, and MS Dhoni will admit to it soon, that his bits-and-pieces team- of a similar structure that won the 50-over World Cup last year- was never going to be explosive enough to get through a group that consisted of a mad Pakistan team, a vengeful Watson-driven Australian outfit and an always-there South African team.

One Man Army

It’s easy to say that India was hard done by after winning 4 out of 5 matches in their campaign- a much better performance than the previous two World Cups. But their bad day was worse than that of Australia’s and Pakistan’s- in a group that was always going to raise the bar as far as elimination was concerned. That South Africa decided to roll over and let the other 3 tussle in the mud was no surprise at the end, but a small error could go a long way in deciding the fine line between bad fortune, luck and a deserving exit. Ask New Zealand, who will now know what kind of luck works in T20 cricket, after losing two Super Overs out of their 3 games. Or Ireland, who were 3 balls short of making it to the Super 8s at the expense of favourites West Indies.

Pakistan made it count on their 2 good days, and Australia absolutely thrashed India and South Africa on theirs. India thrashed but one team, their arch rivals, and wonder why they weren’t in the semis after pulling off a meaningless gifted-on-a-choker-platter 1-run win against South Africa in their final game. After the South Africans crossed 120, in truth, there was no real meaning to what the outcome would be. If India had gone on to lose it altogether, it’d have been a lot more telling of their actual form in this World Cup- rather than giving their fans a reason to outrage over a false 2 out of 3 win scenario. It’d have done their self-belief a world of good if they hadn’t already ignored the NRR scenario and rolled over against the Australians, and maybe done it the hard way- the way Pakistan did, after they mauled Australia in a much-win game after having less of an advantage than India did.

Decisions like opening with Irfan Pathan, playing Piyush Chawla and Harbhajan Singh together, and bowling Rohit Sharma with Ashwin yet to bowl- will tarnish the legend of Dhoni’s leadership, and rightly so. He could be satisfied with his team’s performance, because it is an improvement, but we’re talking about a team that plays more domestic T20 cricket than any other country in the world- in a highly lucrative competitive league. They were definitely not short of ideas or match practice, but Dhoni is definitely making it look like a football case- where the English team heads into every FIFA tournament wondering who the strangers (rivals) playing by their side are. This, despite having the most physical and competitive domestic league in the world- and rubbing shoulders with the best of the world each week.

Not Packed Yet

It all comes down to how well you back your strengths as a team- like Australia shamelessly exploited their own top order, for they have nothing else. Their weaknesses were exposed glaringly against Pakistan, and will be exposed again- but they have gone farther than many thought they would. Pakistan backed their 4-spin-pronged bowling attack, and it paid off in the crucial game. West Indies backed their all-round Gayle-inspired ability, and they’re in the semis. Sri Lanka backed their home-condition-knowledge too.

All India could back was Kohli’s form- and they couldn’t even back that completely. The law of averages had to catch up with him, and the others around him struggled, no doubt, making him feel like a famous Indian young batsman in the 90s.

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