Weak bowling and shambolic fielding, a perennial problem which has afflicted Indian cricket for long, resurfaced at the R Premadasa Stadium on Monday to ensure that the Men in Blue will not go into the World Twenty20 in the right frame of mind. A day before the tournament kicks off, the 2007 champions suffered a morale-shattering defeat in their final warm-up game on Monday.
It didn't help that the loss came at the hands of their arch-rivals Pakistan. On both sides of the Wagah border, an India-Pakistan game is not about the reward, it is pride which is at stake. Hence, the psychological blow is deeper.
India elected to bat first and at the end of the innings there were a lot of happy faces in their camp as can be expected after a batting effort of 185 for three.
The ease with which Pakistan cantered home despite losing wickets at regular intervals exposed the lack of quality in the bowling line-up. Kamran Akmal, who has made a name for himself for his heroics against India, proved the difference again, with a whirlwind 50-ball 92 not out.
The performance of the Indian attack would have only added to coach Duncan Fletcher's worries. The cause for concern after the five-wicket loss was more because it was not as if the bowlers were completely off course, it looked a case of being out of depth.
Pacers L Balaji and Irfan Pathan were plundered for 41 runs in four overs and 40 in 3.1 overs respectively.
Harbhajan Singh was taken for 40 in four. Their plan of attack was close to what they normally do when successful, but the Pakistan batsmen had all the answers.
When he was slogged from the stumps to the legside, Balaji changed direction to outside off-stump but Kamran and Co effortlessly shifted inside the line of the ball and smashed him. Pathan tried all the tricks which he used so effectively in the first warm-up against Sri Lanka, but his change of pace was easy pickings for the batsmen.
That has left the Indian think-tank with a lot of issues to sort out before starting their campaign in 48 hours. It has put extra pressure on their batsmen, who have been left wondering if any total they post will be safe.
More importantly, it has left captain MS Dhoni and Fletcher confused over the right combination.
The dilemma they face is whether to play seven batsmen and play to the team's traditional strength hope for part-timers to do the job or include an extra bowler.
India will still take some positives, nothing bigger than the return to form of Rohit Sharma and the continuing dream run of Virat Kohli.
Their partnership of 127 in 13.5 overs was India's best period of play.
Kohli top scored but from Sharma's 40-ball 56 was equally crucial as it means an end to their middle-order worries.
India will also take some heart from R Ashwin's performance. He came out of the game with his reputation enhanced.
Every time he came on to bowl, the Pakistan batsmen struggled and four wickets for 23 runs was a fitting reward for the lanky spinner.
India need to outbat rivals
The Indian camp observed keenly how the wicket played. After all, they play all their games at the Premadasa Stadium. With 371 runs scored for eight wickets in 39.1 overs on Monday, it is clear the nature of the square has improved from the sluggish turf it used to be.
It would suit India's strength - batting - but bring more pressure on the bowling attack. India played on a side wicket & a final judgement will have to wait till they play on the centre pitch on Wednesday.
At the moment it appears if India have to go all the way, they will have to outbat the opposition.
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