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You cannot insult the game by not respecting it
by Suresh Menon
Jun 17, 2009

The parallels with the 1987 World Cup (the old, 50-over format for those of you who were not born then) are startling. Then too we had a charismatic captain who had captured a nation's imagination by holding aloft the trophy at Lord's four years previously. Kapil Dev too bought into the hype surrounding the defense of the title – this time at home – and India gave the impression that they believed they merely had to turn up to win.

Much will be made of current captain M S Dhoni's overconfidence – although no one objected when that led to victories – his great run in all forms of the game, and many will ask the question: has his luck finally run out? When he handed the ball to Joginder Sharma for the final over at the last Twenty20 World Cup, many clutched their heads in disbelief. Yet, Sharma pulled it off, and the captaincy was said to be inspired. On Sunday, Dhoni sent Ravinder Jadeja ahead of Yuvraj Singh at number four, and now that is seen as a reason for the defeat.

As are the other standard reasons: fatigue, too much cricket, dissensions in the team (the Sehwag-Dhoni tiff might have passed off peacefully but in typical overkill, the entire Indian team landed up at the press conference, suggesting that there might be something in the story after all), focus on endorsements. The training ground for the World Cup, the IPL, seems to have trained foreign players better than the Indians, and that is real irony for you.

What did not register at the time because it was difficult to see through the curtain of hype and expectation was that the Indian batsmen struggled in South Africa every time the ball was pitched short or the bowling speed increased. This was no planned strategy at that point. But clearly the coaches of the two teams which beat India in the Super Eights, the West Indies and England, made notes. It has been a traditional Indian weakness, never fully eradicated and shown up in sharp relief whenever the team lost, whatever the format of the game.

India's coaches were outwitted by teams that had hitherto struggled to come to grips both with the format and the tactics of the game. All sport is about strategy. India's was reminiscent of the 1992 World Cup, when the strategy was for opener Srikkanth to scatter the bowling and then for the rest to walk through the breach he had created. Didn't work.

Still, it is difficult to feel heart broken over the defeat. It might even have been a blessing. Perhaps by losing, India have postponed the date on which Twenty20 is set to take over from Test cricket. To quote Boris Becker at a press conference after he had lost a match: "After all, nobody died."

Those who thought that India being in the group with Ireland and Bangladesh was a blessing will now rue the fact that one of the stronger teams was not there to push the players. England lost to the Netherlands but recovered to beat Pakistan, and faced India on level terms. The Indian team was not tested. They lacked a proper picture of their own abilities in a situation where other countries were evolving. You cannot hope to win merely by turning up. That's what India did. And they paid the price.

Whatever the format, you cannot insult the game by not respecting it. Australia discovered this early, and so too did England, nearly. And now, India. That's the only simple lesson to be drawn from this. Over-analysis is futile.

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