It's the end of the road for India. Even though hindsight is a 20:20 vision, we probably read too much into India’s good performance against West Indies and Sri Lanka at home. The truth is, we have struggled in one-day cricket of late and the good weeks in India before the World Cup were just a blip.
Remember Sri Lanka were without Vaas and Murali. Indians have truly been uninspiring with the bat and criticism now must stick that they do well only when everything is going their way. Rarely is there a recovery from a poor start; seldom are partnerships forged and the number of times we have batted well through the 50 overs can be counted on fingers. In both the defeats against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, India’s batsmen were found wanting.
One thing is confirmed as far as I am concerned. They are a great batting line-up on paper, full of some great individual players with fat records. Unfortunately, when it comes to combining as a team and playing in a pressure situation, they are found wanting big time. And this has been the case for over a decade.
I didn’t see any sign of self-belief among the boys. That for me was difficult to fathom; experience was there in plenty as well as the reasons to do well since so many leaders of Indian cricket were probably turning out in their final World Cup. But most of the time, the boys appeared flat, devoid of direction and purpose.
Friday’s defeat in many ways was similar to the one in Kolkata in the 1996 World Cup semifinals by the Lankans. There too India had collapsed in a heap. The sight of Rahul Dravid clutching his hamstring and asking for runner was reminiscent of the tears rolling down Vinod Kambli’s cheeks in Kolkata that night. Dravid is of stout heart but there’s little doubt that he too must have been numb from inside.
I wouldn’t have much criticism for our bowlers who, by and large, did the job they were asked to. Barring Harbhajan Singh, the rest were worth their salt. But Tendulkar might have been bowled an over or two extra and bringing on Munaf Patel in the death overs — when Ajit Agarkar was so good upfront — was a mistake that cost India dear. I still feel an extra bowler might have saved India 25 runs at least.
Indians were also awful in the field. That alone is the word to describe them when Sri Lanka batted first. The rival batsmen were pinching singles at will and misfields and poorly aimed throws were far too many. It was such a contrast to see the Sri Lankans jump around in the field and a few of their acrobatic catches in the field went a long way in subduing India.
It also makes me rake up the forgotten point about Ramesh Powar. India needed a bowler to claim wickets in the middle overs as I had harped ceaselessly before the team was picked for the World Cup. On Friday too, India struggled to prise out the fifth-wicket pair of Chamara Silva and Tillakratne Dilshan. That partnership afforded the launching platform for Chaminda Vaas to hit big shots in the end.
I have never been an advocate for large-scale changes but I guess in a defeat of this magnitude, heads will roll. The future of coach Greg Chappell with the Indian team is now more unclear than ever.
One thing for sure is that the BCCI must carefully listen to every word Chappell has to say. It might be a bitter pill to swallow but knowing Greg, he will not be too far from the truth. I still believe he has a role to play — that’s if he wants to. Things have happened so quickly that the implications are huge for everyone: for the media who made elaborate arrangements to cricketers and even board officials who were planning grand trips to the Caribbean next month.
For the BCCI, it is a warning not to sacrifice quality for quantity. If domestic cricket is not given importance, then we will have the Test team on its knees this time next year.