The batting was the cause

It was clearly evident over the last season that this ageing Indian batting line-up was increasingly dependent on conditions. And it floundered at the World Cup. Over to S. Dinakar.

Amidst the unprecedented hype that preceded India's World Cup campaign, which is now a shambles, there lay a couple of warning signals.

India, chasing 258 against Sri Lanka at Rajkot, was 235 for five in 45.4 overs. It could not progress beyond 252.

In the earlier series against the West Indies, the side was dismissed for 189 at Cuttack. That was a game where the bowlers saved India the blushes.

Verdict: the much-celebrated Indian batting was suspect under pressure.

In fact, it became clearly evident over the last season that this ageing Indian batting line-up was increasingly dependent on conditions.

The Indians were bamboozled by the Australian pacemen, left-arm swing bowler Mitchell Johnson in particular, during the tri-nation series in Malaysia. In the Champions Trophy at home that followed, India was eliminated before the knock-out stage.

Then, in another example of how this line-up floundered on seaming wickets, India was blanked 4-0 (ODI series) in South Africa. Too many batsmen were playing too many shots too soon.

And in the World Cup, India registered totals of 191 and 185 against the two Test playing nations in Group `B', Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. On both occasions `the World's best batting line-up' could not last 50 overs. Mentally, the batsmen seemed under a siege.

Let's go to the specifics of the Indian debacle in the Caribbean.

Getting the toss wrong: India began the campaign on a faulty note when Rahul Dravid elected to bat against Bangladesh in Port of Spain. The day games have their own dynamics and the conditions, initially, encouraged the pacemen. India suffered early blows, could never gain momentum. When Bangladesh chased, the conditions were perfect for batting.

While he puts safety first in his approach to batting, Dravid has taken some huge risks with the spin of the coin. He, with disastrous consequences, elected to bat on a green-top in the second Test in Lahore (2004).

Last season, Dravid's decision to field on a brown sub-continental pitch in the Test series decider in Mumbai saw India batting last on a crumbling wicket against England.

Faulty composition of the XI: India should have opened with Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. While it is true that Tendulkar is past his best and needs to seriously consider retiring from the ODIs, his chances of succeeding are much better at the top of the order where he can use the pace of the ball.

The No. 4 slot was certainly not the right position for him. Actually, it is surprising why the Indian think-tank felt he could deliver in the middle-order after the fiasco in the third Test at Cape Town, when Tendulkar got hopelessly bogged down in the second innings against Paul Harris' left-arm spin. He succumbed to the Bangladesh left-arm spin early on in Port of Spain and is finding it hard to pick deliveries that straighten from round the wicket. Resultantly, his footwork has been tentative.

Robin Uthappa does hold promise, but his upper body is still stiff. While he can cut, pull and bat fluently off the back-foot on a bouncy surface, on a slightly slower pitch, where front-foot play is required, Uthappa tends to essay too many off-side strokes in the air.

Given that Bangladesh has an all left-arm spin attack and Muttiah Muralitharan is less effective against the southpaws, Irfan Pathan (he should have been picked ahead of Uthappa), should have been included in the middle-order. His left-arm bowling too could have been handy against Sri Lanka, since the morning conditions encouraged swing.

Rahul Dravid, still the technically best equipped batsman in the side, should have batted at No. 3 to prevent the early inroads. Virender Sehwag, a particularly good player of spin, should have come in as a floater in the middle-order. Looking back, Sehwag never got to face spin against Bangladesh.

The Indian batting stumbled in the middle-overs. It is surprising why these batsmen of supple wrists were not able to work the ball for the singles and the twos on a sluggish Queen's Park Oval surface. They had forgotten the fundamentals of batting in the one-dayers.

The pacing of the innings — in the Power Play, middle and end overs — was awry. Senior batsmen, who received starts, could not consolidate. Worse, they fell to forgettable strokes after eating up balls. In-form batsmen have to make their form count for the team.

Leaving out Anil Kumble for the perform or perish game against the Lankans made little sense. The logic behind the move was that since Sri Lanka had four specialist left-handed batsmen, Harbhajan could turn things in India's favour.

The reasoning was flawed since Sehwag had scalped two for 15 in five tight overs against Bangladesh. Sehwag, with his flattish variety, is a more than useful off-spinner in the ODIs; he does not allow the batsmen to get under the ball for the big blows. Just compare this to the manner Sri Lanka has utilised Sanath Jayasuriya's left-arm spin in the one-dayers. The trick is to make the most of one's resources.

In the event, Sehwag did not bowl against the Lankans. And Harbhajan Singh was off-colour, going for more than five runs an over. Kumble, a fierce competitor, could have created the pressure in the middle-overs.

Losing wickets in clusters: India lost five wickets for two runs against Bangladesh, falling apart from 157 for four. Mahendra Singh Dhoni's shot-selection was baffling. He was caught cutting early against Bangladesh. And then Muttiah Muralitharan nailed him with a quicker ball from round the wicket. He failed to open his account in two big games.

Dhoni had also made the cardinal mistake of going back to the first delivery he faced — getting on to the front foot is always the better option early on against a quality spinner if there are no fielders close to the bat — and paid the price. The ball from Muralitharan was not lacking in length either. This revealed the Indian batsmen were not applying their mind. Take the run-out of Yuvraj Singh, that preceded Dhoni's dismissal, for instance. Dravid might have initially taken off, but it actually was Yuvraj's call since the ball had travelled behind the bat, to short fine-leg and the non-striker had a clearer view. Yuvraj charged down the pitch and there was no coming back.

The Indian bowling was steady, but lacked the inventiveness of the Sri Lankan attack. The manner in which Muralitharan changed tactics to bowl from round the wicket, pointed to a mind that was ticking. Winning sides change plans to play on the minds of the opposition. Kumara Sangakkara was standing up to Vaas in the early overs, when Uthappa was at the crease.

And Sri Lanka, despite a few ageing players, held smart catches, made things hard for the opposition on the field. India's fielding was not bad on a smaller ground, but the side could not put the batting side under stress. India, fielding first, had the best of the conditions against Lanka, but failed to cash in.

Crucially, India lacks a bowler of genuine pace who can reverse swing at the Death. The Lankan blitz in the last five overs hurt India. These were important runs.

India in World Cup 1975 — Eliminated in the first round. 1979 — Eliminated in the first round. 1983 — Won title. 1987 — Lost in semifinal. 1992 — Finished seventh. 1996 — Lost in semifinal. 1999 — Eliminated in the Super Six stage. 2003 — Lost in the final. 2007 — Eliminated in the first round.