If there was something incredibly ironic about India’s exit from the ICC World Twenty20, it was the fact that the one player who managed reasonably well against the barrage of short-pitched bowling admitted that he had a problem against this mode of attack.
“I think most of us have that problem, not just the youngsters. We can’t neglect it. We come from a place where we don’t have bowlers who bowl at 145-150 kmph consistently, and most of the wickets don’t have that kind of bounce,” said Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
“We shouldn’t be ashamed that we can’t play short-pitched bowling that well. In T20, how much can you be ducking and leaving all the time? But if you have a problem you have a problem,” he said.
And India does have a problem. To start with, the batsmen must admit as much, otherwise they have little chance of sorting it out.
The embarrassment comes from the fact that India were found out in the same tournament a year ago in England, using the same tactic, and nothing has changed.
Dhoni’s admission aside, he is far from blameless in what has happened. As captain of the team, he is under the most pressure, but when placed under intense scrutiny, the man who never breaks a sweat on the field, crumbled.
Until the Sri Lanka match, Dhoni had backed his own instincts as a captain, and that is all you can do, even if results don’t go your way.
In Barbados, on a surface that offered extra bounce, Dhoni stuck by the team he thought best — refusing to play a third seamer, persisting with Ravindra Jadeja and M. Vijay.
But, in the do-or-die game, the cynic in Dhoni surfaced. He made the changes everyone had been asking for, almost as if to say, here you go, this is what you wanted, isn’t it?
R. Vinay Kumar’s stirring debut aside, the replacements did little to suggest that Dhoni was wrong in his original assessment. Piyush Chawla bowled with all the guile of a schoolboy and Dinesh Karthik came up with another performance that was neither here nor there.
Dhoni’s attitude of living in a cocoon, backing his own judgments stubbornly and refusing to get others on board is one way of doing things, but it’s not the only way. And on the rare occasions that it does not come off, it leaves the Indian captain looking like he either does not care enough or is arrogant.
Neither approach makes for a long survival in cricket, a game that has chewed up and spat out cricketers who do not respect it.
Technically, the reasons for India’s loss are basic: they had no reply when asked questions through short-pitched bowling on helpful wickets.
From what Dhoni says, this is a serious problem, and is showing no signs of going away. Mentally, the team was far from fresh after the Indian Premier League, and perhaps are in danger of actually believing the line they have served up for public consumption — that the IPL does not affect other performance.
Physically, they were a shambles, the injury to Zaheer Khan where a blow to the thumb was “one of the reasons” why he sat out, clearly highlighting that all was not well.
All the words in the world will not get Dhoni the two points that his team needed to progress to the next round. Actions speak loudest, and at the moment the one everyone, especially the Indian Cricket Board, needs to take note of is the senior players’ move to ask for a break during the Zimbabwe tour. Well-rested, fresh people do not ask for breaks.