So, here we are then. That the champions would be on the brink of elimination from the World T20 would have been hard to believe after their domineering performances against Ireland, Bangladesh and, albeit in a warm up, Pakistan.
But those heady days of success at Nottingham have been reduced to only footnotes in India’s campaign. The seven-wicket crushing at the hands of the West Indies at Lord's — India's second loss in two games here — has put them one defeat away from an ignominious exit from England.
Failure to launch
Both of India’s wins leading up to the SuperEights were set up by Rohit Sharma and Gautam Gambhir's form at the top. They found the boundaries with the least effort, optimised the powerplay and forced the opposition to rethink.
That, however, was not the case on Friday at Lord’s. Up against an attack light years ahead of Bangladesh’s and Ireland’s, Rohit and Gambhir found the bad balls few and far between. The West Indies, it seemed, had a plan to bowl at the bodies of the Indian batsmen, and it worked. The extra pace and bounce made things even tougher. Both openers fell attempting shots they would have, got away with against Ireland and Bangladesh. Against Jerome Taylor and Fidel Edwards, though, it led to their downfall.
Crisis in the middle
There were none of the expansive drives and vicious cuts one normally associates with the start of a T20 innings, with the boundaries being limited to a meagre four for a long time. Though that count quickly went up through Yuvraj Singh’s heroics towards the end, it still wasn’t enough.
The muddle in the middle cost India dear. The openers’ form at the top seemed to have, temporarily at least, taken the focus away from the middle-order. M.S. Dhoni has not found the going easy so far in England. He had been coming in at three before deciding to push himself lower on Friday. It was a move that didn’t help anyone — Dhoni was painfully slow at five, while Suresh Raina’s elevation lasted all of 12 balls. Yuvraj was the lone bright spot in the Indian line-up, but he too took some time to get going.
154 isn’t the easiest target to defend, and the lack of bite in the Indian bowling didn’t make things easier. Though they removed Andre Fletcher in the second over and kept Chris Gayle unusually quiet, Harbhajan even bowling him a maiden, India’s attack just didn't seem to have enough about it. In fact, India are yet to take all ten opposition wickets in any game. Zaheer Khan looks on his way to full form, but the same cannot be said of the others. Pragyan Ojha was woefully off-colour on Friday, while Ishant Sharma’s good show against Pakistan could be his only contribution on the tour. The bowling in the last overs is still a problem, 48 runs were scored off the last four overs of the West Indian innings.
India now have to win both their remaining SuperEights matches — against England and South Africa — to stay in the hunt. Not a completely alien situation for M.S. Dhoni’s boys. A loss against New Zealand in the last edition in South Africa had also led to such a situation. They came out of that mire all guns blazing, to do it again will be quite a task. A Super Sunday awaits.