Cricket really is a funny old game. Three days ago India were top of the CB Series points table, now they are at the bottom. Two defeats - by 110 runs to Australia and 51 runs to Sri Lanka – have unravelled their shot at making the best-of-three finals. Trailing Sri Lanka and Australia who each have a game in hand, India need a dramatic turnaround in form to stay alive in the tournament.
Australia sit atop the table with 14 points from five matches, and at second are Sri Lanka with 11 from the same number of outings. Sri Lanka’s eight-wicket win over Australia on Friday earned them a bonus point, and their success in Brisbane today has pushed them ahead of India.
In the last two defeats the road to defeat was straightforward: the bowlers conceded too many runs and the batsmen failed to score the required runs.
Virender Sehwag, India’s stand-in captain, put his spin on India’s defeat after the defeat to Sri Lanka in Brisbane. “We didn't bowl well in the final ten overs, and we didn't bat well,” he said, matter-of-factly. “The way Sachin [Tendulkar] and [Gautam] Gambhir played in the beginning, I thought we could get a good start but we lost three wickets early. We didn't bat well and we didn't bowl well. We missed [MS] Dhoni in this game. If we play to our potential it will be easier for us."
Potential. Such an abused word in sport. And one that members of this Indian team have been throwing up all tour. “If we play to potential …” has been followed by “had we played to potential” all throughout this Australian sojourn. This potential that keeps being mentioned and even used in explanations for defeat is what has failed to come to fruition in the series.
Sachin Tendulkar has been nowhere near his full potential, scoring 90 runs from five innings. Rohit Sharma, a batsman we are all told has great potential, has managed 79 runs in five innings with a best of 33. Suresh Raina, a batsman whose potential is restricted purely to limited-overs cricket, has scored 134 in six with 38 is highest contribution. Sehwag, a batsman whose potential we all know, has scratched 30 runs in three games. Ravindra Jadeja, whose potential recently netted him a $2 million IPL contract, has scored 93 runs in five innings and one wicket at a whopping average of 233. India’s highest run-getters in the CB Series are Gambhir (222) and Virat Kohli (217). Dhoni (191 runs) reeled off scores of 44*, 58* and 56 before he was handed a one-match ban for India’s poor over rate in the previous match.
The inevitable early loss of a wicket has been followed by wobbles through the batting order. In India’s first match, the chase was over at 77 for 5. In the second, 14 for 1 was smoothed over by a 75-run stand for the second wicket but from 181 for 6 it needed R Ashwin and Jadeja’s unbeaten 53-run stand to seal a four-wicket win. The nail-biting four-wicket win over Australia in Adelaide was sealed with Dhoni remaining not out until the end, after India had lost wickets at crucial junctures when it appeared two batsmen were set. Dhoni was again to the fore with an unbeaten 58 in the tie with Sri Lanka, after the rest of the batsmen barring Gambhir failing to contribute.
In the last two matches there have been individual contributions (Dhoni against Australia and Kohli and Irfan Pathan against Sri Lanka) but the rest of the numbers put up have been sorely disappointing. While India’s best batsman until he copped a one-match ban, his leadership skills, persistence with a ‘rotation policy’ and comments in the media about the slowness of the senior players have turned him into something of a marked man.
It’s simple to see that collectively India’s batting just hasn’t been up to the mark. Considering India’s current predicament, they will need something drastic to win handsomely from hereon.
In the last two matches India conceded too many runs, and there have been no stand-out bowlers on view. Vinay Kumar has blown hot and cold for his nine wickets while Irfan Pathan has taken six in three matches. R Ashwin has been steady, Umesh Yadav disappointing, and Praveen Kumar a disaster.
There is no great theorizing to be done when addressing India’s situation. They don’t appear to know what their best bowling combination is and the batting hasn’t clicked. This rotation policy clearly isn’t working either.
In today’s match, India’s spinners brought them back into the match but the quick men and part-timers leaked 81 runs off the last eight overs, including 24 from two Vinay overs and 24 from two off Kohli and Raina. Having Raina bowl the 49th and Kohli the 50th over, which cost 14 runs, was a poor move.
India need wins – and big ones - to get back into the frame for the best-of-three finals but for that to happen, the potential being bandied about has to come to the fore.