Falling short!

The technical chinks in the methods of the Indian batsmen while coping with fliers on the juicy Kensington Oval pitch in Barbados were all too obvious. The batsmen were getting squared up and, worse, were not keeping their eye on the ball, writes S. Dinakar.

India's shortcomings were exposed as the side, despite the hype, failed to qualify for the semifinals of the ICC World Twenty20. The side needs to introspect.

If a team loses all its six Super Eight matches in successive editions of a world event then factors such as luck do not come into the picture. Simply put, India was not good enough. It boils down to ability. Once again, the Indian batsmen were undone by well-directed short-pitched bowling. Team after team has successfully targetted the Indian batsmen with lifting deliveries. Unless some of the young Indian batsmen learn to cope with short-pitched bowling from the quicks, the side will continue to disappoint.

There was juice in the Kensington Oval pitch and the Indian batting came apart. There was no fight, no character. To make matters worse, this Indian team lacked fire and passion in the arena. The fielding was slack and the bowling was rarely able to build pressure. Runs were given away too easily, often in crunch situations. Not everyone receives an opportunity to represent the country and those who get the honour of doing so must comprehend the responsibilities that come with it.

After the triumph in the ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa (2007), India has fallen away in the ICC global competitions. The side has failed to make the semifinals of the next three ICC events — the World Twenty20 in England, the ICC Champions Trophy in South Africa, and the recently concluded event in the Caribbean.

There were statements attributed to coach Gary Kirsten questioning the commitment and fitness levels of a few Indian cricketers. However, these words, emanating from undisclosed sources, could not be verified. If, indeed, Kirsten had lost his cool following the Indian debacle, then his response had come too late in the day, He was the popular coach who had given the younger cricketers too much freedom and leeway.

He could have cracked the whip in England last year when the Indian batsmen were found out by searing short-pitched deliveries from the West Indian and the English quicks, Instead, he did not insist on a single mandatory practice session; even ahead of the perform or perish Super Eight duel against England.

Had he been strong and assertive then, India could have got its act together in the next edition of the event; in the Caribbean. But then, he has this reputation of being the players' coach.

Greg Chappell, blunt and honest, spoke about the shortcomings of certain players on the critical issues of technique, fitness, and attitude. The well-meaning man was shunted out. Kirsten, taking the other route, has not produced results, at least in the abbreviated forms of the game.

Once again, the Indian Premier League is at the heart of debates on India's failure. While some of the cricketers could have been jaded mentally coming into the competition in the Caribbean, IPL fatigue is largely a fringe issue.

Had the cricketers, indeed, been so tired they would not have defeated South Africa in the early league phase and then run a strong Sri Lankan side close in India's last Super Eight fixture. Interestingly, both these matches were played on the sluggish surface in St. Lucia.

A balanced and clear-headed analysis would reveal that this Indian team is dependent on pitches to produce results. To be fair, the side performed reasonably well in St. Lucia but seemed clueless on the pacey tracks of Barbados. Now, a side cannot appear spent in one venue and look a stronger force in another in a matter of days; it belies logic. If anything, India's victory over South Africa in St. Lucia was closer to the IPL.

Truth to tell, the nature of the pitch at the Kensington Oval was the hitch. Unless India addresses the core issue vis a vis short-pitched bowling, it will not progress as a cricketing force. As West Indian captain Chris Gayle said, “Every side wants to bowl the short-pitched deliveries at the Indian batsmen. We know they have a problem. It's for them to find a way out.”

Sadly, we are sucked into peripheral issues ignoring the principal cause. Suresh Raina is a perfect case study in this regard. He was dominant in St. Lucia notching up a hundred against South Africa and a half-century at the expense of the Sri Lankan attack. Yet, the left-hander seemed consumed by self-doubts against the rising ball in Barbados. Raina was not fresh at one venue and tired at another. It boiled down to ability and technique.

The technical chinks in the methods of the Indian batsmen while coping with fliers were all too obvious. The batsmen were getting squared up and, worse, were not keeping their eye on the ball. Playing the hook and the pull shot is a lot about precise back-footed play and balance. The Indian batsmen, desperately, launched pulls when they were in no position to play the stroke.

And their vulnerability against the short ball affected other aspects of their batting. Their footwork in a mess, the Indian batsmen also succumbed to the fuller length balls.

“I think that most of us ... we have that problem ... you can't really neglect it,” admitted skipper Dhoni. “We come from a place where you don't have bowlers who are bowling at 145-150 plus (kmph) and you don't have wickets that bounce a lot. We are good players of spin bowling and that's our strength,” he said.

Dhoni was brutally honest on a key issue. He was also spot on when he said players should take care of their body and not go partying after a night game.

Dhoni's stubborn tactics hurt the side too. The skipper's decision not to include a third paceman at the pacey Kensington Oval affected India's chances; he retained left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, who was down on confidence. Despite playing only two pacemen, he elected to chase against Australia and the West Indies in Barbados. When given a chance against Sri Lanka in St. Lucia, R. Vinay Kumar, ignored in the earlier games, bowled with heart and craft.

Given a lifeline after Australia crushed Sri Lanka, India got the pacing of its innings wrong at St. Lucia. Needing to beat Sri Lanka by at least 20 runs to keep its hopes alive, India galloped to 90 for one in 10 overs yet made just 73 in the next 10. Sri Lanka, eventually, nailed a thriller off the last ball.

Little went right for India. Time is ripe for some hard decisions.