India's rise to the No.2 slot in the ICC T20 rankings will come as cold comfort in the wake of their exit at the Super Eight stage of the ongoing World Cup in Sri Lanka. Those fond of excuses are finding fault with the rules and the calculators and are unable to come to terms as to how India with two wins more than the West Indies overall are out of the race while the Caribbean side are in the semifinal.
But the truth of the matter is that you have to perform when it matters most and India were found wanting when it came to the crunch situation. For that matter, South Africa too looked the best team at the end of the preliminary stage but that inexplicable loss to Pakistan seems to have left them shell shocked. Clearly, they were never the same team after that and they have only themselves to blame.
The other lesson to be learnt is that even in a tricky format one can have a bad day at the office and still stay in contention for higher honours. But the recovery act must make a huge difference. Pakistan recovered more than adequately from their bad loss to India whereas India did not recover strongly enough from their bad loss to Australia. In the ultimate analysis India like South Africa have no one to blame but themselves.
Other than that there will be the usual post-mortems as to how the batting failed, how MS Dhoni made this strategic blunder and that, how the team management failed in not playing an extra spinner or pace bowler or by fielding an extra batsman when should have played a bowler. In T20 given the fast and unpredictable nature of the format there is hardly any room for error and every seemingly wrong move or one bad over by a bowler is magnified.
On the other hand a hunch may come off in spades and the captain is hailed as a shrewd tactician. Dhoni like every captain has had his moments of glory and downward slump in fortunes. The fact remains that after that historic triumph in the inaugural World Cup in South Africa five years ago India have failed to make it to the semifinals even once and Dhoni has been at the helm every time.
To be candid, a look at the results and the figures against the Indian team makes it harder to believe that the Indians were hard done by the rules of the calculators. Creditable wins over England and Pakistan, the narrowest of victories over a lackluster South Africa, a heavy defeat against Australia and a struggle before getting the better of minnows Afghanistan reflects the inconsistency of the side. A glance at the stats and any sympathy for Dhoni and his team is bound to evaporate.
In no column - batsmen's strike rate, bowler's strike rate, bowler's economy rate, the averages, the aggregates, high scores, best bowling figures etc - do Indian players figure prominently with the exceptions of Virat Kohli who is fourth in the batting aggregates with 185 runs and Lakshmipathi Balaji who with nine wickets is second in the bowling aggregates.
The continuing failures of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag at the top of the order along with the controversy over the latter's non-inclusion in a couple of matches put a lot of pressure on the middle and late order and they too hardly came off. The bowling provided little solace and confusion over whether to play seven batsmen or an extra bowler reflected poorly on the team management's decision making.
But if there was one team that disappointed more than India it was South Africa. Except for the inaugural Champions Trophy in Dhaka in 1998 they have never won a major competition and the choker's tag has seen to it that they will forever remain international cricket's eternal bridesmaids and never the bride.
So often have they made all the early running, been really impressive at the preliminary stage only to falter badly when it matters most and such instances are too many and too well chronicled to be detailed here. It was a repeat showing in Sri Lanka too. Only South Africa with their capacity to self destruct could have squandered the vice-like grip they had in the match against Pakistan themselves a mercurial side.
AB de Villiers emerged as the villain both as batsman and skipper. As the side’s best batsman in this format he came in too late and then he made some bewildering bowling changes which allowed Pakistan to wriggle out and then emerge victorious. Whatever their batting limitations they remain a formidable bowling and fielding unit and for South Africa to finish without a point in their group will always be one of those inexplicable outcomes that are frequently associated with T20 cricket.
That said few will disagree that Australia, West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are deserving of their places in the semifinals. The hosts were the only team to win all three games in the Super Eight while West Indies got the better of England and New Zealand and so took their rightful place in the last four. Their clash with Australia should provide high octane entertainment.
Australia on their part looked a trifle vulnerable against Pakistan but none can question their fighting spirit and they seem determined to win the one trophy that is missing from their cabinet. The other semifinal between Sri Lanka and Pakistan is absolutely anyone’s match and for all the disappointments following the exit of India and South Africa and the number of lop-sided contests the T20 World Cup could have a really rousing finish.