Winning and losing is part of sport but certain defeats can be difficult to digest. Saturday’s result at Mohali was one such.
There was no way India should have lost that match. To let go one winning opportunity is perhaps understandable but India were in control throughout the Australian innings and it was a combination of one over by a part timer, another horrid over towards the end and poor planning by the captain, that in the ultimate analysis, led to a defeat, a result which is hard to accept.
Yes, limited overs cricket is known for its twists and turns and very little can be predicted. But surely when 130 runs are required in 13 overs with five wickets in hand, it is a clear winning position for the fielding side. Again with 66 required from five overs at 13.2 an over with four wickets in hand, the screws have been tightened on the batting side that much more. And when 44 are required from 18 balls at 14.66 an over, it surely is all over bar the shouting. But perhaps, it is not so when it comes to Indian bowlers – and captains.
A lot has been said and written about the failure of the bowlers and they have been rightly taken to task. A team that concedes over 200 runs in a T-20 international and follows this up by being hammered for over 300 runs in three consecutive ODIs, is clearly asking for trouble. It means nothing if you have the best batting line-up in the contemporary game along with the worst bowling combination.
Even in limited overs cricket, like in Test matches, it is the bowlers who win matches. What happened at Jaipur in the second ODI was an aberration. The first game at Pune was more in keeping with the norm. The Australians batted admirably and then the bowlers backed them up by restricting the formidable Indian batting.
For years now, the most lustrous batting line-up in the world has seen to it that India are able to hold their own in international cricket. The bowling despite the efforts of Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh has presented problems and now with two of the quartet having retired, and two clearly past their best, it has reached crisis levels.
It was hoped following his impressive debut in Australia in 2007-08 that Ishant Sharma would be the great big hope but the lad first stagnated and now has reached the point of no return. To borrow Geoff Boycott’s favourite word he has been bowling ''roobish''.
Ishant’s bowling in the ongoing series against Australia is a lesson in how not to bowl in limited overs cricket. He has been pitching the ball in exactly the areas the batsmen want. Length balls that can be lofted into the stands, short balls that are cut or pulled away, balls that are sprayed all over the place.
He is at his worst in the death overs and the 48th over of the match that he sent down on Saturday, is perhaps the most infamous in Indian ODI history. It’s not just that he went for 30 runs and cost his team the match. He just refused to learn from his mistakes and continued to send down deliveries that were meat and drink for the rampaging James Faulkner.
It was not the kind of bowling that one would expect from a rookie let alone someone who has played 51 Tests and 68 ODIs. As Dhoni put it while not hiding his disappointment: ''You don’t need to spoon feed bowlers at the international level.'' Yes, they certainly should be aware of what they need to do.
Ishant’s critics have been vociferous of late and after Saturday there cannot be any sympathy for him. In the last four games his figures have been 4-0-52-0 (in the T-20 game), 7-0-56-1, 9-1-70-0 and 8-1-63-1. The one time pace spearhead has now been relegated to first change behind rookies Vinay Kumar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The fact that the selectors have retained him in the squad for the remaining four ODIs has come as a rude shock and will send a wrong signal to the many budding young paceman.
But Ishant was not the only villain on Saturday. Dhoni the batsman was marvelous as he hit the third highest score by a No 6 batsman in ODIs in a rescue act of almost epic proportions but Dhoni the captain was found wanting. There has always been a bit of the luck factor in Dhoni’s leadership since much of it is intuitive. Some hunches come off, others don’t.
The point is that there was no need to experiment in Saturday’s game. Experiments are at most times carried out as desperate measures but at Mohali India were always in control of things during the Australian innings and it was foolhardy to bring on Virat Kohli when the regular bowlers were doing reasonably well.
Kohli bowled the 40th over when the asking rate was 10.36. The 18 runs he conceded brought the required run rate to 9.60 with two well settled batsmen Adam Voges and Brad Haddin at the crease. In the ultimate analysis, this over along with Ishant’s disastrous 48th over cost India the match.
Again there was no need for Dhoni to have Ishant bowl the 48th over given his abysmal record in the death overs. Vinay Kumar and Ravichandran Ashwin each had two overs left and they certainly would have been better choices. Both ended up bowling one over short of their full quota. But then this sort of miscalculation is nothing new for Dhoni. In the first ODI at Pune his best bowler Bhuvneshwar sent down only seven overs.