It is convenient to be a Monday morning quarterback, an American term for one who views things in hindsight. But in the business of chronicling events, it is also inevitable.
Here’s an attempt, then, at identifying the reasons behind Australia’s thumping victory over India in the Future Cup, completed in the sixth match in Nagpur on Sunday. The purpose of the endeavour is to help India learn from their errors and return to winning ways.
So quick, get the nurse. Get the MRI machine. Let’s perform a scan on Indian cricket from the viewpoint of this series and see what it reveals.
1. Demented schedule
India beat Pakistan in the World T20 final on September 24. Five days later, they were playing Australia in the first match of the Future Cup. Weird or what! India had been on the road since the end of June and had also won the Test series against England. The players should have rested and rejoiced for a couple of weeks.
Yes, we know that the calendar is packed. This is how the cookie (and the cricketer) crumbles in the contemporary game. But it makes things too demanding for teams and indirectly breeds the malady of fan fickleness. It’s just about three weeks since the Twenty20 win, for example, and people have again started to ridicule the team. It is not a healthy way for things to be. The International Cricket Council (ICC) and the fixtures committees of boards need to be more considerate towards the players and the games.
2. The bowling of Zaheer & Sree
Australia’s lowest score in the tournament was 283 (except in Vadodara where they had to get only 149 to win). It proved that the Indian bowling attack was not doing its job. Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth, India’s opening bowlers in four of the six matches, gave away too many runs. Zaheer bowled only one sub-6 spell, a one for 55 in ten overs in Kochi. Sreesanth’s best effort was three for 55 in Bangalore. Even RP Singh, who bowled well in the UK and the World Twenty20, was ineffective in the three matches that he played against Australia.
On a happier note, Irfan Pathan, Murali Kartik, and to an extent Harbhajan Singh, did better.
Chinnaswamy stadium, Bangalore. Zaheer Khan bowls the third over of the innings to Adam Gilchrist. Gilchrist slices hard. Yuvraj Singh, at point, leaps up like a giant sturgeon in Florida’s Suwannee River and takes an electrifying catch.
India’s fielding got off to a flying start in the series, but over time it flamed out. There were some alert throws, but otherwise it was not in the same league as Australia. Sunday’s dropped catches were the nadir. Improvement is critical here.
4. Missed opportunities
India had Australia sweating in the first two matches with early wickets. The world champions were 18/3 in Bangalore and 8/2 in Kochi. It is true that Australia are too strong a team to collapse with the loss of a few wickets. But even captain MS Dhoni admitted that India could have done a better job of pressing home the advantage.
India have not crossed a target successfully against Australia since they overtook 272 in the Coca-Cola Cup final in Sharjah on April 24, 1998. It was Sachin Tendulkar’s 25 th birthday. At the peak of his prowess, he came up with an out-of-this-world 134 to author an India win.
Since then, though, India have chased 18 times against Australia and failed to reach the target.
The old weakness was exposed in this series. In the five completed matches so far, India batted second thrice, losing on all occasions. There were performances of individual brilliance. Yuvraj Singh scored a gallant century in Hyderabad. Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, then Robin Uthappa, were spectacular in Nagpur. But the sustained team effort that is needed to chip down a big target was missing.