Opportunity lost

Sreesanth... the find of the tour.-AP

The Indians had an unhappy tour of South Africa, losing both the One-day and the Test series. What went wrong with the personnel? S. Dinakar evaluates.

Brushed aside in the ODI series, Team India missed a gilt-edged opportunity for a maiden Test series triumph in South Africa. Here's an assessment of the cricketers on a campaign that threw up several questions.

Rahul Dravid: His field settings — there were no fielders square of the wicket in the deep on either side — forced the pacemen to bowl a fuller length. Dravid, for most part, set attacking fields, rung in the changes well, and encouraged his younger bowlers from mid-off or mid-on. In the final Test, though, he committed a couple of mistakes. Sachin Tendulkar's spin should have been utilised more in the second innings. And with fewer runs to play with, he could have set semi-attacking fields. As skipper, he would have to take responsibility, along with the team-management, for disastrous decisions like 1. Omitting Harbhajan Singh for the decider, 2. Playing Munaf Patel (still not completely fit), 3. Promoting Virender Sehwag to the opening slot in the second innings. In the same breath, he deserves credit for a brave decision to bat first at the Wanderers. A fractured finger sustained in the ODI series robbed him of batting rhythm in the Test series. He produced bold innings at Newlands (third ODI) and at the Wanderers (first Test). However, the skipper received two poor decisions at Kingsmead. He was guilty of adopting ultra-defensive batting methods in the final Test. Dravid led India to a historic first Test victory on South African soil, but he would look back on the tour as an opportunity lost. Perhaps, he needs to assert himself as a captain more, particularly in the area of marginal selections in the eleven. He is still the right man to lead India. Marks: 4/10.

V. V. S. Laxman: He displayed a measure of solidity in the Tests — 180 runs at 36.00 — without quite batting with the fluidity of old. He remains a good player of bounce, but not movement. Laxman has to fill the breaches in his defence, use his left foot more. He was brilliant in the slips, but seemed to struggle, when pushed, while running between the wickets. 4/10.

Sachin Tendulkar: The maestro showed flashes of his brilliance in the Test series — 199 runs at 33.16 — without quite consolidating. He crawled in the final ODI at Centurion. Then, on the critical fourth day of the final Test, he made heavy weather of Paul Harris' left-arm spin, attempting to sweep him from the rough, instead of working the bowler off the back foot and rotating the strike. There was a huge momentum shift during this phase. 4/10.

Virender Sehwag: The punishing right-hander has been worked out by the bowlers of the world. He is either attacked with deliveries on the rib-cage or probed in the corridor. He is being denied the width. Unless Sehwag improves his footwork he might find survival hard against better attacks in international cricket. A hand-eye coordination player, Sehwag does not quite have the technique to bail him out of difficult periods. His game revolves on reflexes and the fact that he has put on weight seems to have affected his body alignment and reaction time. It does appear that Sehwag's international future lies in the middle-order. India has to groom an opening partner for Wasim Jaffer and needs to sort out its top-order sooner than later. 2/10.

Wasim Jaffer: Jaffer has a sound defence and a good temperament and has to be encouraged. He had an ordinary ODI series — Jaffer was uncertain whether to attack or defend — but performed much better in the Tests. He looked confident but could not kick on in Durban. His first innings century — the lone hundred by an Indian in the Test series — at Newlands brought his innings building qualities to the fore. Jaffer — 185 runs at 30.83 — has the basics, but should strive for consistency. 4/10.

Sourav Ganguly: With a straighter back-lift and a more balanced, upright stance, Ganguly — 214 runs at 42.80 — had his moments in South Africa. The left-hander revealed a tighter game and batted more fluently than any Indian specialist batsman on the tour; to his credit, he adjusted to the South African tracks quicker than the rest. He still has problems against short-pitched bowling, but displayed courage, taking blows on his body. For someone out of international cricket for 10 months, Ganguly's batting was creditable — he and Laxman, however, had the advantage of facing the Kookaburra ball after 20 overs on most occasions. But when Ganguly was rushed in to bat at No. 4 in the second innings at Newlands after India lost two quick wickets, he did handle the new ball capably. The Dada, however, has to curb his tendency to open the face of the blade square of the wicket to the pacemen. Ganguly should have taken responsibility on the pivotal fourth day, since he was the batsman in touch. 5.5/10.

M. S. Dhoni: His wicket-keeping has improved and Dhoni batted with guts. When the South African pacemen bounced at him, he did not flinch. He averaged 34.75 in the ODIs and 26.00 in Tests. His returns in Tests, however, tell that Dhoni could not construct an innings of substance. Like Dravid said after the belligerent wicket-keeper batsman perished to a loose stroke at the stroke of tea on the final day at Kingsmead, Dhoni requires to read situations better. India was striving to save the Test at that point and runs were of little relevance. 4.5/10.

Dinesh Karthik: The find of the tour, along with S. Sreesanth. Karthik batted with resolve and technique when asked by the team-management to open at Newlands. The little man has precise footwork and sound body balance in both offence and defence. In the second innings, when he was, without logic, pushed down the order, Karthik used the crease better than some of his more illustrious colleagues. He is also a swift, alert 'keeper with a heart for battle. 5/10.

Anil Kumble: The failure to bowl India to a series victory at Newlands would haunt him for some time. The senior leg-spinner bowled well on surfaces favouring the pacemen — at Wanderers and Kingsmead — but could not deliver on a spinning track in the third Test. He, with the weight of expectations on him, was trying too hard, pushing the ball through. Kumble (14 wickets at 24.71) needed to be patient and relaxed, and slower through the air. This would have enabled him to get more bite and purchase from the surface; the ball would have gripped the pitch. Kumble should have, from round the wicket, used the rough outside the right-hander's leg-stump only against the southpaws; the right-handers were able to pad him safely. Kumble is not a big turner of the ball, who can spin it across the face of the bat. A lot of his deliveries, thus, finished up down the leg-side. He could have stuck to his normal over-the-wicket style against the right-handers, mixing his leg-breaks with googlies and top-spinners; his natural drift would also have been a factor. However, Kumble (economy rate 3.66) bowled extremely well in the ODIs, containing and striking with accuracy and variations. 5/10.

S. Sreesanth: The paceman with a fluent, aggressive run-up was India's biggest gain. The right-hander's late outswing fired India to its first Test victory on South African soil. The lively Sreesanth's (18 wickets at 21.94) destructive five for 40 in one incisive spell at Wanderers must rank among the finest pieces of bowling by an Indian paceman. The right-armer also displayed the ability to swing the ball into the batsman — this also made him effective against the left-handers — used the crease and mixed his length and pace. He has to keep a lid on his temper though. His seam position is excellent. He also needs to work on his consistency and reverse swing. 6.5/10.

Zaheer Khan: Staging a comeback in both forms of the game, Zaheer was humming on the tour. The left-armer was a fitter, meaner paceman who made most of his deliveries count. The ability to straighten the ball from over-the-wicket made him a distinct threat to the right-handers. His natural angle and the ability to shift line, opened up the left-handers. A rhythm bowler, his pace picked up as the tour progressed. He added to the attack with his experience, showed his versatility by, both, seaming and swinging the ball. Even as Sreesanth struck, Zaheer maintained the pressure from the other end. Like Sreesanth, he did not give his wicket away easily with the bat. 6/10.

V. R. V. Singh: He has the right attributes for a paceman. The strongly-built bowler generated speed, extracted bounce. He needs to pitch the ball up more; his length was a wee bit short in South Africa. The young man was unlucky too as catches were put down off his bowling. Singh also did not have the advantage of bowling with the new Kookaburra ball. He also played a hectic, critical innings at the Wanderers. 3.5/10.

Harbhajan Singh: The off-spinner might have made a difference in the third Test. Harbhajan could have achieved more purchase from the dry pitch with his flight and the rip he imparts on the ball. Kumble and Harbhajan could have built up pressure from both ends with contrasting styles. The Indians missed a trick by excluding Harbhajan. This said, Harbhajan's bowling in the ODI series was ordinary. The South Africans, in a deliberate ploy, went after the off-spinner, never quite allowing him to settle down. 3/10.

Munaf Patel: The lanky paceman should not have played the final Test. His ability is not in doubt, but his strained ankle and the effect the injury had on his psyche, meant his mind was clouded with self-doubts. 2/10.

Irfan Pathan: Displayed some flair and tenacity with the bat in the ODIs, but his bowling appears to be going nowhere. His pace has dropped, and he is unable to achieve the kind of swing that made him such an effective left-arm paceman not so long ago. It was a sad moment when he was sent home after the first Test. 3/10.

Suresh Raina: Like Pathan, his confidence is down. His shot-selection was awry and he was troubled by short-pitched bowling. But there are reasons to believe that the left-hander may still have a career in international cricket. India should not give up so quickly on its younger players. 2/10.

Mohammed Kaif: Considering that he made a hundred in the Test series in the Caribbean, Kaif was unlucky to be discarded after the ODI series in which he was searching for form. Being the kind of batsman he is, the team-management has to give him a regular batting slot. He, like Raina, does add to the fielding. 2/10.

Dinesh Mongia: He chipped in with a knock of 41 at Centurion — the left-hander figured in just two ODIs — but it was a laboured effort. His left-arm spin was handy in Durban. Truth to tell, he was not as big a failure as it is made out to be. 3/10.

Ajit Agarkar: The paceman remains an enigma. Agarkar hardly did justice to his ability in the ODIs, pitching on both sides of the wicket. 2/10.