By the time this is read, it must be all over, bar the cribbing — by the Indian team, of course — about luck, the weather, morale, and so on that has dogged it at the World Cup. A tournament overshadowed by the murder of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer. Although many people expected India’s final pool-stage match against Sri Lanka at Port-of-Spain last Friday to be tough, no one would have predicted such an ignominious early exit for Team India from the competition. Especially so soon after it had registered a handsome win over — never mind if lowly placed — Bermuda.
But then the way the team has been playing of late, it would have been surprising only if it had actually made it to the Super Eight round. It’s as if choking has become a habit for India in big matches, with the players going into the chase with a negative mindset every time. On paper at least, there wasn’t much to distinguish between India and Sri Lanka who are close together in the middle of the International Cricket Council (ICC)’s world rankings, with Sri Lanka ahead by a single place and point. If anything, the Lankans looked far more impressive in the manner in which they bludgeoned Bangladesh, making light of the Bangladeshi bowlers who had earlier dismissed India for less than 200 runs. Not that this was any excuse for the Indian batsmen to have played so irresponsibly after their bowlers restricted the marauding Lankans to a highly gettable total on an easy pitch. The vaunted batting line-up was nowhere in sight as batsmen threw away their wickets with some desultory batting.
It is almost a throwback to the 1970s when India constantly struggled in the game’s one-day format, winning only one of six matches in the first two World Cups. Only the 1983 Cup win and the subsequent proliferation of one-day internationals eventually lifted India’s appetite for the shorter version of the game, and generated the kind of television income that makes the country’s superstars the richest in the game. As Indian cricket lurches at this crossroads, it’s up to both the administrators and the talented, but non-performing bunch of players to do some serious soul searching so that they can get back into the winning habit.