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Mohali And The Sting In The Tail

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Something great and something bizarre as well as poor and inexplicable has happened in this One Day series. The great has gone to Australia along with the series and India can sit and debate about the rest. You go and beat a full-strength Australian team in their backyard in the first two finals of the best-of-three finals in the last edition of the tri-nation Commonwealth Bank Series in 2008. Then you maintain a high percentage of victory in most of the bilateral series that follow but fall at the first hurdle of both the 2009 World tournaments—the T20 World Cup and the Champions Trophy. The two world tournaments had enough twists to ensure that the journalists had a good time, especially the brilliant victory of Pakistan in the T20 World Cup. The Australians lifted the Champions Trophy beating New Zealand in the finals.

Hang on! The Australians are coming to India for a 7-match ODI series that they think is too hectic; and Ponting goes public with his concern for the crammed schedule. Ian Chappell writes for some media company that it is a useless series in an already hectic season. Someone from the BCCI is quoted in another story that asks Chappell to shut up and mind his own business; meaning to stop messing with our business.

In the Champions Trophy, India had one bad day and their campaign ended; so you could say that they were kind of unlucky. But a home series of seven matches could change all that; hammer the depleted Aussie side, grab the number 1 position and send the visitors packing as this was a much-weakened team compared to the one that Dhoni’s boys had beaten in 2008 in the Australian backyard.

The end result of 4-2 in Australia’s favour is the worst fall that Dhoni has seen in his still-short captaincy career. With the number of injuries rising with each game, Ponting has rightly hailed this win close to winning a World Cup and as satisfying as any in his career. Australian media has cheered the victory as the dismantling of ‘upstart rivals’ India.

Where did things go wrong for India can be seen better from where did they go right for them. India won the second ODI convincingly by 99 runs as the powerful middle-order clicked and India made 354 with a brilliant 124 by Dhoni and solid half-centuries by Gambhir and Raina. Then there was ‘a partnership made in batting heaven’ as one analysis headline said after the Delhi game. Comfortable six-wicket win in the end and India took a 2-1 lead going to Mohali.

India then had one of their best days in the field restricting Australia to 250 on a good surface. The fielding was sharp and was rewarded by four run-outs, the best being the most-crucial one of Ponting by a direct throw from Jadeja. The expression of Dhoni running towards square-leg with a gloved arm pointing towards Jadeja in the deep told the story of how brilliant a piece of fielding it was. The second half of Mohali is where India lost the whole series.

After the loss of the seventh Australian wicket, earlier in the day, they managed to add 14 more runs to their total. After the seventh Indian wicket was gone, the Indian team added 49 more runs and yet lost by 24 runs. Tendulkar’s score of 40 was the highest for an Indian top-order batsman and 40 was the lowest score among the 4 top order batsmen who scored runs for Australia. Tendulkar got a poor lbw decision but he also had himself to blame by playing back to a tossed up delivery that could have been hit for a six with lesser risk.

This side has been as Australian as any before and, therefore, it is a good time to reflect on what Sir Geoffrey Boycott was talking with Harsha Bhogle during India’s 2002-03 tour of Australia. Boycott was saying that if you’ve got an Aussie team down, you keep it down and keep pressing the foot ruthlessly because if you give an inch, you won’t know when they would rise and come back to hit you. Harsha smiled and said that’s so typically English Geoffrey, always afraid of the Aussies. Boycott also smiled in return but he knew what he was talking about as that history is now over 132 years old.

Sehwag had a poor series where he could not convert any start to a seventy or eighty that would have made a difference. Tendulkar played the innings of the series and perhaps of the past many seasons of limited overs cricket in Hyderabad while chasing 350. You could see it coming as he has been in outstanding form and is a deeply conscientious cricketer if the team is not benefiting and he is not able to contribute.
Ian Chappell saying that India is fine if Tendulkar makes runs while the team loses is prejudiced analysis without real basis as that is what Australia wants and it has been reported in the Aussie media more than a few times.

Out of the four matches that Australia won three of them were tight finishes that India could have won had they been a bit more tenacious. Australia had no chance in the two games that India won comprehensively. Application and the mental toughness needed to take your team through in pressure is what counts. India could have taken the series 5-1 if they had a bit of that unyielding quality.

Against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy Australia just needed 36 runs in 60 balls with 6 wickets in hand; in 42 balls Pakistan just gave 18 runs and took 4 wickets. That is called an almighty collapse but Australia still got the last 18 without any further damage. India’s work in three games was much easier than what it was for Hauritz and Brett Lee against Pakistan but one needs that quality of slugging it out till the last ounce of blood and sweat and that is what India has lacked not the talent as Dhoni pointed out.

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Dhoni Can Blame It On The Rain

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The good news after the washed out match against Australia is that the mathematical probability for the Indian team to make it to the next stage is not over as of yet; there is a slim chance riding on a lot of factors going India’s way. The bad news is that some of the crucial factors are not in control of what Dhoni and his men do.

India has to hope that Pakistan beats Australia in the second last match of Group A. And if it wins, then India has to ensure that it beats West Indies by a margin that takes its net run rate above that of Australia.
This reliance on mathematical possibilities is quite a depressing situation for a team that has been flirting with the number 1 position in the ICC ODI rankings. Despite all the consistent play that has taken India to the top of the charts, this is not an unfamiliar situation for the team.

Remember the World Cup in West Indies; a loss against Bangladesh in the first match and it was two must win games for India. Bermuda was easy but the loss to Sri Lanka was the end of our campaign. It was also the end of a period defined as ‘commitment to excellence’ by former Australian legend and India’s pre-World Cup coach Greg Chappell.

Persisting with the same attack that won India the Compaq Cup final in Colombo may have cost heavily.
In that final, 18 overs were shared between Yuvraj, Pathan and Raina. Pathan was hammered at 9 an over in his four over spell and Yuvraj was decent at 4 an over. Raina was superb with 8 overs for 26 runs and a wicket. RP Singh went for above seven an over, Ishant and Nehra were not too different. None of the fast bowlers finished their quota. Harbhajan won the match with his five-wicket spell.

Also India had piled 319 runs with a top-class 138 from Tendulkar and a finishing kick of 56 not out by Yuvraj. There was no Yuvraj here who gave India a buffer of 20 extra runs and six frugal overs in Colombo.

What if India had to defend a modest total? And what about restricting a good batting line-up on a decent surface? In Colombo Sri Lanka was all out for 273 with 3.2 overs left; it was a 46 run win but that does not tell the story that the chase was on till the 42nd over. Sri Lanka was 60 for no loss after 7 overs. RP, Ishant and Nehra flogged out of the attack.

Harbhajan was brought in the 8th over with the field still up and he rattled Dilshan’s middle stump with his 5th ball. Jayasuriya hit two consecutive boundaries in Harbhajan’s next over and then took a single. Then a scrambled seam doosra with some over spin on the off stump line drew Mahela forward but he could only manage a leading edge that looped straight back to the bowler’s hands. Two big wickets in two overs for Harbhajan inside the first power play changed the tempo of the chase.

Still the chase was on and the scales turned in India’s favour when Raina had Kapugedera. Then Harbhajan took two in two in the 45th over to reduce Lanka to nine down and completed the formalities by removing Mendis in his 10th over.

The match before the final was even more instructional. Sri Lanka made 307 batting first. India used seven bowlers. Here also Raina bowled 3 overs for just 14 runs and took a wicket; Harbhajan was superb giving 37 runs in 10 overs for a wicket. All the others leaked runs in the range of 6.42 and 7.25. The chase was disastrous; we were effectively out of the contest by the 25th over. India lost by 139 runs.

Did it occur to the captain and the team management that there were some serious concerns? In the last four innings in which he came out to bat before the Centurion game, Yusuf Pathan had spent 5, 8, 4, and 12 minutes in the middle for a combined total of 2 runs. He was hammered for 9 an over and had two ducks and two singles in four outings with the bat. What was the role he was picked for?

Was their any concern for Dhoni and the team management when they went ahead with this composition in a crunch game? An abysmal RP, a low on confidence Ishant, no fifth bowler and to top it all a complete misuse of the only world class bowler in the team. So it wasn’t that you felt three bowlers short you were actually 4 bowlers short with only Nehra at your disposal.

To get the best out of Harbhajan you have to use him like a field marshal uses his most potent weapon; the way he was used when the Sri Lankan openers had hit 60 in 7 overs and it was still the first power play. It was Dhoni who let Harbhajan down at Centurion and not the other way round.

I don’t know if Rohit Sharma was available for selection but he’s played 41 matches and has four fifties to his name. The simple reason that he had in the company of Tendulkar guided India home in a tense one-day final against Australia in Sydney should have been reason enough to consider his case seriously.

The quality that Rohit would have brought to the team apart from his obvious batting talent was his experience and unruffled temperament. India was in a solid position when Kohli came up the order but his inexperience and not his form let him and the team down. Another six or seven overs later he could have pulled that risk easily.

Inexperience sees the five dot balls while experience knows that there is a long way to go and numerous opportunities to cash in will come. Inexperience is a lack of awareness of the state of the game while experience is exactly the opposite.

Raina would have been a much better promotion; the left right combination would have made it difficult for the spinners to choke runs. His natural ability to strike the balls in his zone would have been an added advantage.

The Centurion game was decided in the passive period between the 15th and the 25th overs. Pakistan was under the pump at 65 for 3 after the 15th over and they crept to 108 for 3 by the half way mark; 43 runs without losing a wicket. India was 97 for 2 at the end of the 15th over and by the end of the 25th they were 138 for 4; 41 runs and two big wickets.

Dhoni used the most ineffective bowlers at his disposal when Pakistan was reeling under pressure and Younis used his most effective bowlers when India would have been content to develop a sedate partnership. Ajmal and Afridi would not have been as effective if Younis had allowed a few overs to pass with just containing the batsmen as his motive. A set Kohli with Dravid would have played them much more effectively.

The most consistently-successful part-time bowler coming into the series was Suresh Raina; yet Dhoni didn’t give him the ball and preferred to experiment with Kohli and Pathan at a critical juncture.

The ice-cool Mahendra Singh Dhoni had a bad tournament; an awful one in fact. He knew exactly that his attack had no bite except Harbhajan; he needed Amit Mishra in the playing XI and also a replacement for RP. He could afford to be a batsman less and play Kohli at number 6 with Harbhajan to follow. Now he can just hope and pray for the Gods of fortune to oblige.

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