The trio of Ganguly, Tendulkar and Dravid seem sufficient to see India through the early stages of the World Cup. Beyond that, things remain unpredictable.
Contrasting games and very contrasting results! India seemed to have wrapped up the game for good. And yet fans kept asking, how did we let the Rajkot match slip? That was much the question Pakistan fans were asking as South Africa completed a ten wicket facile victory back home. Strangely Australia did not look like losing and yet England staged a dramatic turnaround.
After the first match against Sri Lanka was washed out at Eden Gardens in Kolkata, Sourav Ganguly fans were not disappointed at Rajkot going by his own personal performance. Yet somehow after the perfect foil in the form of a sturdy partnership between Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar and another well versed one between Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik, India managed to lose the game when it seemed theirs for the taking and nearly signed, sealed and delivered.
The injury list has proven worrisome for India in recent days and with the unavailability of Irfan Pathan, Yuvraj Singh and the likes, the tuning before the World Cup had already gone awry. But Munaf Patel made a strong comeback to the Indian side with a four wicket haul to restrict Sri Lanka's innings. It may not have prevented Kumar Sangakkara from scoring a century, but it certainly gave India a realistic crack at the chase. Then to have lost the game with just twenty-five runs required with five wickets in hand is beyond the inexplicable.
In the midst of this chaos, the World Cup squad was scheduled for the very next day of the match. While it is always an anticipatory event, it had become pretty obvious in the aftermath of the now infamous Greg Chappell experiments that India was quickly losing out on steam and that the list would hold no surprises.
The Tri-series was supposed to be Glen McGrath's farewell on Australian soil. Instead it turned into a nightmare that the Australians will want to forget in a hurry. This was supposed to be Australia's cakewalk before the World Cup. New Zealand showed glimpses and yet came up short of the competition standard. But while Australia looked content with the status quo, England appeared to raise their personal bar. And it is amazing the strange things that happen when one player makes an impressive contribution on a consistent basis in such an inspirational fashion that it lifts the game of the rest of the team mates. Even stand-in skipper, Andrew Flintoff, was over the moon and speechless really for want of words of expression of Paul Collingwood's efforts on that front.
India have had a resurgence through Sourav Ganguly and suddenly the trio of Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid seemed sufficient to see India through the early stages of the World Cup, as was seen in the last match. Presence of mind and match awareness would also play a key part in winning games or losing games from the jaws of victory and this is where India may have missed a note or two.
What happened at Rajkot may be exaggerated. But it must be remembered that it is precisely innings like these that lack finesse in the finish could prove the nemesis for India. As a result of the constant experimentation, men like Suresh Raina and Dinesh Mongia will be sitting back home while people like Virender Sehwag and Irfan Pathan who should have been looked at as a matter of crisis earlier will now go to the World Cup with little confidence of actual match performance in recent times. To think that Mohammad Kaif who averaged over fifty the last time the Indians were in the Caribbean will not be a part of the World Cup is though the perfect example of a case study gone bad.
Even in the seeming predictability of the team composition, the anticipation should have appeared anti-climatic. The best laid vision and the haphazard execution of an eighteen month experimentation plan is likely to have little bearing in the context of the team enhancement between one World Cup and the next!