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India lost despite sound strategy

With the WC looming large, it is better to lose with a sound strategy than win with a flawed one, writes Atul Sondhi.

india Updated: Sep 25, 2006 03:27 IST
Atul Sondhi
Atul Sondhi

It can be mightytough to praise the strategy of a team, if it has lost a low scoring critical encounter less than 24 hours ago. But that is how one needs to look at India's approach in a virtual semi-final clash of an otherwise disastrous encounter.

After all, it is better to lose with a sound strategy than win with a flawed one. Simply because the World Cup is looming large.

Four Bowlers

Considering the fragility of the batting line-up, India opted for three pacemen and one specialist spinner rather than a 4-1 combination. The ostensible aim was to strength the batting line-up, though the omission of Sreesanth may have led to a few debates.

The man who stepped in was Dinesh Mongia whose tremendous unbeaten 63, and the manner in which they were made, saved India from a crushing defeat, if not a crushing blow.

But for Dhoni's rush of blood, the duo might have snatched a victory against Australia. A rare victory considering the last time India had beaten Australia in a chase was way back in 1998, when Tendulkar had hit back to back ODI centuries at Sharjah.

Last five successful chases for India against Australia

 Series Venue / Year  Australia India  Margin
 Coca Cola Cup Sharjah / 1998  272-9  275-4 6 wkts
 Pepsi Tri-series  Kanpur / 1998  222-9 223-4 6 wkts
 Titan Cup Bangalore / 1996  215-7 216-8 2 wkts
 NZ Centenary Tournament Dunedin / 1995  250-6 252-5 5 wkts
 Australasia Cup  Sharjah / 1994  244-9  245-3 7 wkts

If we take last five-six years of the India cricket, Rahul Dravid had to don the gloves only because Indian think tank wanted to play with seven batsmen. And this strategy helped India in winning the final of the NatWest tournament (thanks to Kaif and Yuvraj) and reaching the final of the World Cup 2003.

Now Dhoni is there of course, but he is still to prove himself outside the subcontinent. So why not go with seven batsmen and four bowlers. That will be the safest option for the Indians.

Dependence on Spinners

If it was Sehwag in the match against the West Indies, it was Mongia in the encounter against Australia who had helped put brakes on the progress of the Kangaroos.

His one for 43 in nine overs compare well with Agarkar's two for 44 of eight and RP's two for 43 of 9.1.So why have the fourth seamer at all.

If makeshift spinners can assist Harbhajan in stalling the opposition, then it is better to have more batsmen who can roll the ball. Their presence makes stroke making all the more difficult.

To add to the misery, our speedsters do not have the pace good enough to bother the opposition. Or may be they are too concerned with line-and-length to generate the kind of raw pace with which the likes of Brett Lee rattle the batting side.

If we compare the spell of Lee versus other Indian new ball bowlers in their first spell, Lee bowled over 75 per cent of deliveries at more than 140km per hour. May be due to the desperate situation Australia were in. In comparison, only handful of such deliveries from India's new ball bowlers hit that speed.

The dismissals of Tendulkar and Sehwag were classic examples of Speed getting the better of hand-eye-coordination. And these batsmen are among the best in business.

Right batting Order

Sehwag as Opener, Kaif at one-down and Dravid at number four was just about the best recipe for a a top class chase. The chase would have materialised but for a brilliant one-handed catch of Kaif by an otherwise average Stuart Clarke.

In recent times, too much tampering with positions has seen Indian averages falling sharply in this series.

Dravid as Opener and Sehwag in the middle simply failed to click as their averages in the tri-series testify.

Sehwag and Dravid in Tri-series

  Tri-series Average Overall Career Average
 Dravid  9.75 39.73
 Sehwag 7.00  31.75

Sehwag as an opener is a terror in terms of strike-rate. He has been played at different positions this year, but still maintains a batting average of around 30, which is consistent with what he has been doing since 2003.

Sehwag's performance in last four Calender years

 Year Mts Runs Avg SR
 2006 18 478 28.71  87.55
 2005 33 1017 31.78  107.28
 2004 27 671 25.81  91.17
 2003 27 871 32.26  85.31

If Sehwag is good enough to remain an opener for last three years, any changes will only breed insecurity, and play havoc with India's chances in the World Cup.

So India's strategy was perfect for the 'virtual semi-final'.

Only that they we up against a team, which is capable of squeezing a win from just about any situation.

First Published: Sep 23, 2006 15:26 IST