Am I getting a sense of foreboding or is my reaction to the three defeats India have suffered at the hands of South Africa an extreme reaction?
The result of a T20 match is as unpredictable as a weather forecast and much should not be read into victory or defeat in this format. And to write off India on the result of merely a single one-day match, that too which they should have won, will again be foolhardy. Yet, what we have seen so far of the South Africans --- particularly their battery of raw, tearaway fast bowlers, outstanding fielding and a strong will that ensures there is no panic --- has been very impressive, if not awe-inspiring. Not to forget that they have AB de Villiers to bat and Dale Steyn to bowl for them.
This sense of foreboding, I guess, comes from an instinctive feeling that there is something drastically wrong with this Indian limited-overs team. It lacks spine in the middle-order, has very little to offer in the lower order and the bowling is neither restrictive nor penetrative.
A defeat like the one they suffered at Kanpur, after looking set to cruise while chasing a target of 304, can be heartbreaking, particularly when it comes against the backdrop of two successive defeats, even if they happen to be in the T20 format.
There, predictably, have been questions raised on MS Dhoni’s efficacy as a finisher, his recent record suggesting he is no longer the batsman he has been in this format — efficient as well as brutal. Given the achievements of the man, it would be silly to write him off so soon, though with each passing day, it won’t be easy for him to regain his pristine form. An odd innings here and there yes, but sustaining it might be difficult. Age spares no one.
But do we have a replacement even half as good as him? Obviously not, so let us dismiss the churlish thought that he is holding on to his place on past glory and should quit. A One-day side without Dhoni is like a sugarless sweet.
The second criticism has been the reshuffle in the batting order, where Kohli was shifted to number four to make way for Ajinkya Rahane, who the captain feels needs time at the crease to build his innings. This criticism could be valid, but I don’t think Kohli or the team director have any reason to complain. Wasn’t it Ravi Shastri himself who, while justifying Rohit Sharma’s elevation and subsequent demotion in the batting order in the Sri Lanka Test series, explained it as a “new wave” of positive thinking in which every batsman has to learn to bat in whichever position he is assigned? What is applicable to the others cannot be said to be wrong when it comes to Kohli. However, it must be said that these experiments were tried by Greg Chappell with results that were far from encouraging for the Indian team.
Defeat raises many questions, some valid, some contrived, and as India get ready for the Indore match, they need to recoup fast and level the scores. Otherwise, this sense of foreboding could turn into a reality soon.