India fought hard but were simply outplayed by a superior team when they lost to Australia yesterday. They did well to get to 250 against a bowling attack that had pace, accuracy and aggression.
Sadly, their own pace attack simply lacked firepower, and were unable to provide Rahul Dravid with the breakthroughs he so desperately needed.
I have no quarrel with India's strategy, and their batting too worked well yesterday, considering how well Australia bowled. However, his bowling resources hampered even an attacking captain like Rahul Dravid, and this is an area where India has serious problems.
Irfan Pathan continues to look out of rhythm, and his evolution as a pace bowler has not been going according to script. He was consistently swinging the ball when I first saw him in 2004, but he has lost his accuracy, swing and rhythm since.
I was dropped immediately after my debut and it took me three years to come back into the side. I used that time to analyse my strengths and weaknesses and improve myself. Looking back, my ability to analyse my game is what made me fare better than some of my more talented contemporaries. A similar situation faces Pathan and it remains to be seen how he handles it.
The team management erred when they did not pick Sreesanth for this tournament. It was asking for too much to expect him to come in for one game and do well immediately. Munaf Patel has some potential but he is still too raw to shoulder the attack. There is a paucity of firepower in the pace department, and that is why I feel that Anil Kumble must play one-day cricket.
All three subcontinent teams have now been eliminated from this tournament simply because there was no home advantage on offer for any of them. That said, these teams do have problems that need to be solved if they want to do well in the World Cup. Sri Lanka has been a one-bowler team for some time now, and they need some backup for Muthiah Muralitharan if they want better results.
India need to sort out their bowling options because their attack looks innocuous at the moment. As for Pakistan, even in the absence of Shoaib and Asif, they had attacking bowlers like Mohammed Sami and Danish Kaneria, but went with a defensive strategy and bits-and-pieces bowlers instead.
The conditions offered bounce, movement and carry and all this suited teams like New Zealand, Australia and South Africa more than it did the Asian teams. Even the West Indies have some promising fast bowlers who did well in the tournament. Evidently, teams with more ammunition in the pace department have made it to the final four.
As things stand, the team to beat is Australia. They look unassailable at the moment, and unless somebody like Stephen Fleming or Brian Lara plays a blinder, the Champions Trophy is not going to escape Ricky Ponting's grasp this time.