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Posts Tagged ‘ICC Champions Trophy

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 Personifies 21st Century Leadership

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It was 97 for 3 after 15.1 overs when MS Dhoni joined Gautam Gambhir in the second ODI in Nagpur and from here he gently nudged India to a position from where he and Suresh Raina could then ferociously turn the course of the match.

The first ball that Dhoni faced was a bouncer from Hilfenhaus; he didn’t pick it and took evasive action without his eyes on the ball. It hit him on the back of the helmet, but he was alive to the possibility of a leg-bye; and at the non-striker’s end he could even afford a smile.

The rebuilding process began with the scrambling for ones and twos; haring between the wickets and picking the odd boundary in between. The period reminded me of a brilliant half-century that Dhoni got against Sri Lanka and saw India home without hitting a single boundary in Adelaide last year. The 119-run fourth wicket partnership at over six an over was broken with the strange run-out of Gambhir—the second time he’s lost his wicket recently while backing up.

Raina joined Dhoni with 16 overs remaining and India in a good position with 216 on the board. The next five overs yielded just 22 runs as Raina had time to get his eye in. India was 251 for 4 in 41 overs when the deft stealing had been done and the loot began. And what a loot it was.

In the next 8 overs India plundered 98 runs as Dhoni’s bottom-hand and Raina’s innovative hitting mercilessly butchered the Aussie attack. Dhoni may have curbed his style with additional responsibilities but he showed how much muscle he can pack into those typical MSD strokes if the situation demands. He jumped from 90 to 108 with three bottom-handed sixes in four balls. Flat sixes and fours that went like tracer bullets flowed from his bat before he fell in the last over having made 124 in 107 balls. There was ample support from the two southpaws and Gambhir’s 76 and Raina’s 62 later gave the captain the license to kill.

After losing his first ODI series as captain against Australia at home 4-2; Dhoni has won every bilateral ODI series home and away. The losses have been in tournaments with a format involving more than two teams; the Kitply and the Asia Cup and the two World tournaments this year.

The two finals that India won in the last edition of the Commonwealth Bank Series in Australia are the crowning glory of India’s ODI achievements. Teams with big names on paper have played in the tri-series before and Australia has mostly proved to be too hot to handle in the finals. Dhoni got Praveen Kumar and Piyush Chawla in the playing XI in the finals. Praveen opened the attack and took two vital wickets and Piyush was given the ball when Hayden and Symonds were hitting the seamers easily. They justified the captain’s faith amply and Australia managed a gettable 239 in 50 overs.

It needed a big performance on the big stage to go past Australia; and a magnificent 117 not out by Tendulkar and his vigilant and daring 123-run partnership with young Rohit Sharma, who made 66, ensured that India went to Brisbane with a lead. “He has scored 16,000 runs. I haven’t even played 16,000 balls.” That was the pithy comment from Dhoni when asked, halfway through the CB Series, if he was bothered by his senior-most batsman failing to make big runs. When his experience and ability to fashion a chase in a big match was needed Tendulkar played the perfect innings in a perfect chase.

The business was finished in Brisbane and Dhoni stepped back a little and asked for the youngest member in the team; and a grinning Chawla held the trophy aloft. That and the T-shirt he put on a young Indian fan after the World T20 win symbolises his leadership.

His giving Ganguly those few overs to lead the Test team for one last time before bowing out showed the magnanimity of his leadership—and coming ahead of all the big names in the Mohali Test showed he can take tough decisions easily if needed. He does not shy from trusting a youngster at the deep end of the sea. He respects the present and the past achievers but is pretty-much his own man. He has no need to foist himself on the team or to seek respect and that is one of the reasons why he earns it so well. Dhoni personifies the leadership required for a 21st Century India.

In The Best Traditions Of Pakistan Cricket

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“Pakistan now moves ahead with the momentum that makes them so lethal by their side. It would be tempting to put your money on them but it would not be wise: Some things are best left uncertain.”

This last line of my previous post after Australia and Pakistan played a memorable match at the SuperSport Park, Centurion is just the right beginning that I needed for this post after New Zealand won the semi-final at the New Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg.

Pakistan, as many cricket writers say, is a dangerous team when it starts gaining momentum. Momentum largely is a constant that helps every team more or less. The traditional process-driven approach of gaining momentum by getting the balance of the team right and keeping the winning habit going works for everyone, including Pakistan.

That apart, the Pakistan team is the most ‘receptive and volatile’ to a different kind of momentum, the mechanism of which cannot be described perfectly. That they have gained this momentum can be seen and felt plainly, but what has triggered it is at best a good guess. The big moments of Pakistan cricket have come through this backdoor that is not of their making; their credit is only being open and vulnerable to ‘an unspecific trigger’ that gives them a non-traditional momentum.

Osman Samiuddin, Pakistan editor Cricinfo, wrote a piece like a raconteur that lends credence to my drift in this piece. The piece was done on Pakistani cricket two days before the T20 final on Sunday.
“A triumph it already is, come what may Sunday. Astrophysics may be easier to comprehend than this situation, even if it is unlikely astrophysics has ever brought as much joy as this.

It has been an uneven, uplifting ride, in the best traditions of Pakistan. Just to know that they are still capable of it is relief in itself; indeed the worst fear over the last two years was that Pakistan had succumbed to the curse of bland mediocrity. But to know that they are still capable of doing what they did to South Africa in the same fortnight as what they allowed England to do to them; is to know that the soul of all Pakistan sides is alive and well.”

Waqar Younis, in an informal chat with Harsha Bhogle for a show broadcast a few years ago, smilingly said that he’ll never forgive Jadeja for what he did; talking about the 1996 World Cup. Waqar then added that Pakistan had their best team in the 1996 World Cup; in my view as well that was a very strong team. Not the all-time best but the best of the last 18 years or so.

When Osman talked about the amazing run of Pakistan after it had reached the T20 final in 2009 he was hesitant in bracketing it with the inaugural T20 World Cup or with the 1999 World Cup where also Pakistan had made it to the finals; instead he saw this in the same vein as the 1992 World Cup.

“The T20 run has been of a piece with, as nobody in Pakistan has forgotten, the 1992 World Cup, where, for no obvious reason, Pakistan suddenly transformed from a mohalla second XI into the world’s best. Everything came together to some great, central magnetic pull, as if it inevitably had to, in a wonderfully calculated way even though almost none of it was calculated,” Osman wrote.

Two days later the comparison had one more thing in common, as they would become the two World Cup victories for Pakistan; a World Cup in 1992 and a T20 World Cup in 2009.

This is a part of the complex soul of Pakistan cricket. Pakistan’s best teams or even the relatively-better ones did not manage to win a big tournament on the World stage. All the other sides were better prepared and well on course compared to the two teams that looked like a mohalla second XI.

The 1992 team and the T20 one in 2009 sensed a ‘tiger coming from the backdoor’ and rode it, though not fully in control but riding it nonetheless—and things started to fall in place. Imran got the right batting order in time and the T20 team started looking confident and dangerous. There were some individual heroes on both the occasions but the essential element was that the force was with all of them.

Younis and his team in the Champions Trophy were openly courting certainty. He declared that the Champions Trophy is Pakistan’s after the first match, leave aside predictions for his own team he even said he would want an India and Pakistan final. They played well but on their own steam. The backdoor probably gets locked in certainty—or who can be sure of even that. One thing though is quite likely as Werner Heisenberg explained in 1927; that the more certain you are about one parameter the greater is the inaccuracy in knowing the other. That’s why in the best traditions of Pakistan to be uncertain is not such a bad thing.

The Glorious Uncertainties of Pakistan Cricket

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It would be near impossible to find a genuine cricket lover across the eight major cricketing nations who would not be shattered to see the game moving ahead without a substantial role of Pakistan. On the contrary there would be millions lamenting that tours to Pakistan have suffered for a few years for reasons that are beyond the control of either the administrators or the fans of the game.

In this season even indifferent observers would have turned serious followers had they been witnessing how Pakistan cricket navigated through a dark, treacherous period and emerged joyous and unscathed on the other side; in the process they also sparked unadulterated joy among millions of supporters back home. Forget home; they must be even lifting the spirits of the rival camps.

Younis Khan and his team have given the other Test playing nations enough reason to see the fact that it would be a collective loss for all cricketing nations if tours to Pakistan remain stalled. Tours though are not decided by cricket captains and emotional fans; more so as the aftershocks of Mumbai and Lahore would be felt acutely by the governing bodies of countries scheduled to tour Pakistan.

On their part though, Pakistani cricketers have done enough for the world to take notice. On Wednesday they gave another proof—if it was at all needed in the first place—on why the game of cricket is so much poorer without the incendiary brilliance that their team brings to this rather small mix.

It was not an ideal surface to bat on but it produced a match that single-handedly justified the Champions Trophy. The Aussies put Pakistan in after winning the toss and bowled 50 overs with intensity to restrict Pakistan to 205. The chase began like a typical Aussie hot pursuit, with boundaries raining. At 62 for 2 after 12 overs, the seasoned Ponting and Hussey took charge; Ponting extra cautious while Hussey free-flowing. The Aussie captain perished in the 32nd over—to a slog-sweep off Malik caught wide of square leg, courtesy a great effort by Umar Gul.

It was just a precursor to the period that I call the ‘Pakistan Factor’. This elusive and dangerous quality that makes a Pakistani team lethal is scientifically defined as the product of mass and velocity: commonly called momentum. And in its own peculiar way, this momentum does not run contrary to the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle*—one of the fundamental pillars of Quantum Mechanics named after the German physicist Werner Heisenberg, who presented it in 1927. In simple cricketing terms it can be used to say that momentum can be observed but what triggers it remains elusive.*

When Pakistan began their World T20 campaign this year, they played England in the first game and lost by 48 runs. A match report said: ‘Pakistan was well short of their best, especially in the field where they dropped at least four catches and produced countless more sloppy pieces of groundwork. … maybe suffered from knowing they have a second chance against the Netherlands …but this defeat was so heavy that even a win in that game might not be enough.’

Pakistan won against Netherlands and then lost to Sri Lanka. They then defeated New Zealand emphatically, and something that can’t be measured accurately triggered what could be seen plainly: Pakistan had gained momentum. Pakistan qualified to the semis as the 4th team to take on the unbeaten South Africans.

Osman Samiuddin, Pakistan editor of Cricinfo, in a preview to the T20 semi-final called it first a clash of ethos, of philosophies and even of time, more than a semi-final. It was the art of cricket against the science of it, cricket’s future against its past.

South Africa had all bases covered. “The whole machinery is intimidating …the mission pre-programmed; with seven consecutive wins… they have also taken the inherent unpredictability of this format out of the equation. They are well-oiled, and their psychologist talks about 120 contests and of processes over outcomes. They win even warm-up matches and the dead games because every game counts. They are cricket’s future.

Pakistan are the past. They are wholly dysfunctional, but just about getting along, though unsure where they are going. They don’t control extras…. They are least bothered about erasing the flaws because any win will be in spite of them. They did hire a psychologist though, and you can only imagine what those sessions were like… There are permanent mutterings of serious rifts. They may not bat, bowl or field well all the time, but sometimes, they do what can only be described as a ‘Pakistan’: that is, they bowl, bat or field spectacularly, briefly, to change the outcome of matches. You cannot plan or account for this as an opponent because Pakistan themselves don’t plan or account for it.”

Osman hits the nail on the head when he says that it is not something that Pakistan plan for; meaning that it happens and also meaning that it is in harmony with my ‘not-so-scientific’ comparison with the revolutionary theory of the Quantum Physics genius Heisenberg.

Pakistan took on South Africa and despite scoring a gettable 149, Afridi turned the game on its head by taking Gibbs and De Villiers cheaply and almost back to back. Sri Lanka had been the more consistent team in the tournament; but in the final it was Pakistan that was more hungry.

Australian captain Ricky Ponting sensed the danger in the Champions Trophy group match today as his strike rate of 50 suggests; rarely does he score 32 runs in 64 balls. Asif was back in the 40th over after a dull first spell; Ajmal had sent Ferguson back a while ago. Then followed the madness, the brilliance, the call it what you like, the-what I-like-to-call as the Pakistan Factor.

Rana Naved bowled the 41st over and his fifth ball, an in-swinging dipping yorker, shattered Hussey’s off stump; it was as if lightning had struck. Hussey left after a fluent 64; 31 needed from 9 overs with 5 wickets left.

It was already crazy when the back-from-hell Asif made it absolutely maddening in the 42nd over; Hopes drove straight to mid-off and Younis pouched a low catch. Johnson survived a run-out scare but White had no such luck. The fifth ball was an Asif special: It landed on a good length outside the off and cut back sharply to pierce the bat pad gap and shatter the timber behind; an unbelieving pale White made his walk back. Twenty-three in 36 balls with 3 wickets in hand and Rana Naved bowled two maidens on the trot.

In between the maidens Johnson hit a four and was deceived the very next ball by an Ajmal beauty; a short and quick doosra that Johnson misread and it came back to crash his stumps. Australia had needed just 36 runs in the last 10 overs with six wickets in hand. Seven of those 10 overs yielded half of the runs at the cost of 4 Aussie wickets. It was sheer madness, it was pure magic, and it was quintessential Pakistan. It was something that would have made Werner Heisenberg—the 1932 Nobel Prize winner in Physics—smile.

Only Pakistan could have brought Australia to such a desperate situation in an otherwise one-sided contest. And only Australia could have survived a tsunami like that and yet manage to cross the line. If unpredictable is the word for Pakistan then the Aussies can best be summed up as unyielding. Lee and Hauritz saw Australia home in the last ball of the match.

Pakistan now moves ahead with the momentum that makes them so lethal by their side. It would be tempting to put your money on them but it would not be wise: Some things are best left uncertain.

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*Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle states that it is not possible to simultaneously measure both the position and momentum of a particle with precision. Conversly, it also means that more the precision in measuring one of them the greater would be the inaccuracy in measuring the other. There are many ways to define and derive the principle. It is one of the fundamental building blocks of Quantum Theory.

The principle was at the core of dialogues between British physicist David Bohm and the 20th century ‘spiritual thinker’ J. Krishnamurti. Krishnamurti was spotted and raised by The Theosophical Society: which he left saying what remains as his most famous one-liner, ‘Truth is a pathless land’. The dialogues are available in a 1985 published book titled The Ending Of Time. It is the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle that prompted Albert Einstein’s famous comment, “God does not play dice.”

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.

Dhoni Got It All Wrong At Centurion

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It was a good solid performance from Pakistan; they were 3 wickets down without too many runs on the board at the 15 over mark but they clawed their way back to a position of dominance on the back of one solid partnership. The partnership was built with sensible and gritty old-fashioned cricketing sense. Pakistan also fought their way back despite giving a multitude of free hits when India was trying to make a match of it later. The two run-outs sum up the story for India: Gambhir’s was the start of self-destruction and Dravid’s was the end of it.

Indian captain Dhoni said that the team bowled poorly and he felt that he was not one or two but three bowlers short. There were problems but not of this magnitude. At 65 for 3 at the end of the 15th over, India was just a wicket away from ensuring that Pakistan plays in a consolidation mode.

And at that time the ball went to Virat Kohli and Yusuf Pathan. And between the two part-timers and an over or two by the seamers the game moved on till the 25th over. In a pressure situation you can get a few overs out of your part-timers; and if that was the thinking it worked as just about 43 runs were taken in those 10 overs.

It also ensured that Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Yousuf were nicely settled before your attacking bowler was introduced in the 26th over. It was a different ball game now and both players were content to pick runs without risking much. Then they took the attack to the Indian camp as one bowler after the other was put to sword. When India finally managed a breakthrough, the brilliant 206-run partnership had taken Pakistan to 271 with four overs still remaining. Malik made a very good hundred and Yousuf was gone in high eighties.

Dhoni must have felt a bowler short but does that justify that the most economical bowler in the pack, Ishant Sharma, did not bowl his quota and finished with figures of 8 overs, 2 maidens, 39 runs, and 2 wickets. Pakistan’s main spinners were introduced in the 13th and the 19th over; India’s only attacking spinner bowled his first over after half of the game was gone. Harbhajan is a confidence bowler; he likes the challenge of adversity and responds to the faith invested in him as a main weapon. Some of his best spells have come when the captain has even risked using him inside the power plays.

There could be some strategy to hold Harbhajan back or may be to send some message to the opposition dressing room. The bigger concern, though, is the message that goes to your main attacking bowler when he is introduced after trying five options, two of them part timers.

And why are we letting the batsmen get away with it by putting the blame squarely on the bowlers? At the end of the 15th over India was 97 for 2; 32 runs more and a wicket less than what Pakistan were at the same juncture.

Given how the wicket was playing, it was by no means an improbable chase. Tendulkar looked in good touch but he was on the wrong side of the law of averages and Aamir, the fiery youngster, bowled an amazing slower one that was just perfect to catch him in no man’s land and Akmal gobbled the edge diving to his right.

Dravid at number 3 showed how common sense, good technique and a sound temperament still counts much more than a capability for big hits. If India’s potent off-spinner had a bad day then Pakistan’s frugal and accurate Umar Gul had an even worse outing, going wicket less at over nine an over.

India was cruising at 90 for 1 in 13.4 overs when Gambhir, who was batting like a dream, was out against the run of play. Dravid hit the ball hard and straight to a shortish mid-off where the possibility of even half a run was fraught with danger and Gambhir had taken just a few paces but was not sharp enough to grasp the danger and Younis hit the stumps; a dismissal that was part harakiri and part inattention.

After 20 overs Pakistan were 86 for 3. India at this point was 122 for 2; way ahead of Pakistan and getting ready for self-destruction. In the next four overs India threw the advantage to be 134 for 4. In-form Virat Kohli took a needless risk that exemplified inexperience. Dhoni was then hit flush on the pads and he was quite forward and quite plumb.

In came Raina and showed why he would have been a good choice at number four. One it would have kept the left right combination going and two Raina is more experienced with an audacious array of strokes that he never hesitates to play if the ball is there. He would have been an ideal partner for Dravid, rotating the strike and also punishing the bad balls. It would also have been a bit difficult for the spinners to adjust their line and length. Even at number six he turned the heat on Pakistan with a very effective 72-run partnership with Dravid. Just as another 20 minutes of Raina at the crease would have been more than dangerous for Pakistan, he got a poor decision—that was the cruel turn of his and India’s fate. There was enough doubt with bat, pad and boot close together and should have been referred upstairs as it was a crucial decision that could have had a bearing on the result of the match.

Out of the three players who were making something of the situation, two fell to very avoidable run outs and one got a poor decision. Just see the number of players who threw their wickets away to attacking strokes when it was not desperately needed and you can see what went wrong. The only two partnerships of consequence that were developing to be potentially match-winning ended with Dravid watching helplessly from the other end—the faster than run-a-ball stands of 67 with Gambhir and 72 with Raina ended in what can best be called a tragic quirk of fate for India.

The match teaches basic lessons: If you’ve got the opposition on the back foot don’t take your foot off the accelerator. The bowlers can’t maintain the same pressure throughout; your time will come if you don’t force it. Cricket is a game of partnerships; even one can make a difference so work towards stitching it. It is the runs scored by the top order that result in wins more often than not, if you are one of them put a premium on your wicket. There is a difference between batting your way out of trouble and hitting your way out of trouble; the probability of success is always higher in the first approach.

Dhoni is a good cool captain but in this particular game he had a bad outing and Younis out-captained him by quite a fair distance.

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