The fall was embarrassingly swift

M. S. Dhoni in retrospect would rue the fact that he did not send Yuvraj Singh in earlier against England. The left-hander was the man in form and he also holds psychological edge over Stuart Broad and company.-AP

A combination of factors led to India’s downfall in the ICC World Twenty20 Championship, and not in the least was its top-order batsmen’s weakness against short-pitched deliveries. W. V. Raman analyses what went wrong with India’s campaign.

Hailed as the Midas of Indian cricket, Mahendra Singh Dhoni must be feeling as anguished as Midas himself was when he found out that his strength had become his weakness. The Indian skipper’s tactical acumen, which was once regarded as his strength, has been ripped apart following the team’s debacle in the ICC World Twenty20 Championship.

Dhoni was straight forward in admitting that India was outplayed by England and followed up with a few philosophical statements in the media like any normal human being does when pushed on the defensive. Despite the bombardment from the media, the skipper justified his tactics in the crucial encounter against England, but it is only natural that a defeat will attract great attention and scrutiny, especially when it was almost taken for granted that Dhoni and his boys will retain the World Cup. Then, in a T20 format it is not easy to predict anything (just consider the upsets that were witnessed in the current edition and in the recent Indian Premier League in South Africa).

It was not just India, but even Australia, a strong contender, had to eat humble pie as it made its exit from the tournament in the preliminary stage itself.

Who would have thought that Ireland would qualify for the Super Eight stage? Such are the vagaries of the T20 format. But then, India has a better record than Australia in this format and also carried the tag of reigning champion as the team reached Old Blighty.

India’s campaign did not get off smoothly, as the fitness status of Sehwag gradually became a controversy of sorts. The Delhi opener failed to recover in time and quite obviously the decision of picking him based on the inputs of the physio (the opener’s injury was common knowledge) backfired on the team. One must realise that in the case of Zaheer Khan, the diagnosis of the physiotherapist was on the mark. The left-armer was also injured at the time of selection but he was cleared by the physio who had reckoned that Zaheer will be able to bowl before the start of the tournament.

Dhoni got into a tangle with the media on the Sehwag issue, but he was right in that it is the BCCI that normally issues a statement in the event of a player being rendered unfit. The fracas created a wedge between the media and the Indian skipper which only made the latter a meaty target in case the team failed to perform.

The Indians failed partly due to a few tactical errors but mostly due to the technical flaws of the top-order batsmen. Earlier in the Super Eight, the West Indians exposed the limitations of the Indian top-order against short-pitched deliveries. Thereafter, the Englishmen exploited this weakness. The Indians were denied the luxury of driving off the front foot and once the staple shot dried up, the top-order batsmen were on the back foot in every sense of the term.

One would have thought that the Indian batsmen would play the horizontal bat shots with panache as they had played the IPL not long ago on South African tracks, but the difference was that the English bowlers came on as a pack, providing no respite.

The absence of Sehwag was felt as India was a batsman short though the inclusion of Ravindra Jadeja provided a wee bit of comfort. But in as much as the young man tried hard to get going, Dhoni in retrospect would rue the fact that he did not send Yuvraj Singh in earlier. He was the man in form and he also holds psychological edge over Stuart Broad and company. Moreover, the Englishmen would still remember the manner in which he mauled them in the ODIs last winter when they played in India. Agreed that the pitch at Lord’s was surprisingly quicker than normal, but the swashbuckling left-hander has happy memories of this ground.

The ploy of holding back Yuvraj for the final onslaught is debatable, but Dhoni somehow has not realised the fact that the Chennai Super Kings faltered in IPL-2 during the 11-16 overs phase in trying to reserve the pyrotechnics for the last few overs. It happened almost on a regular basis and one would have expected it to have been filed in Dhoni’s memory. But it was not to be as yet again it was a case of the Indians getting stuck in the third quarter of the 20-over quota. Dhoni himself admitted that the asking rate had crept up beyond manageable proportions towards the end.

Players such as Jadeja and Yusuf Pathan are parts of a whole and as of now they cannot be considered as a whole part like say a Yuvraj Singh. Dhoni of late has not been playing as freely as he did on his way to ascendancy. The Indian skipper will be disappointed no doubt but he will need to recognise the fact that he could have done a few things better.

The law of averages has caught up with India, and as far as Dhoni is concerned, he must take solace from the fact that no captain can have a clean slate for too long a time. The lesson from the ICC World Twenty20, 2009, for Dhoni is that in a format where things can change in the blink of an eye, a captain cannot afford to commit even half a mistake.