One bad day at the office cost them a place in the semifinals of the Champions Trophy - it is true - but going by the unreasonably harsh criticism particularly against the captain one would get the distinct impression that India have been dethroned as World Cup champions.
But then that is Indian cricket all over. A balanced and proper perspective is hardly ever maintained by the critics, fans and followers. For them India must win every match and every tournament. Perhaps this kind of reaction has also been fueled by the fact that the Indians have had an enviable run in ODIs for over a year now. But then shouldnnâ?t we look at the overall picture and not just focus on one defeat? Dhoni and his squad have notched up two series wins in Sri Lanka, they have won away contests in New Zealand and the West Indies, they have thrashed England 5-0 at home and just prior to the Champions Trophy won the Compaq Cup tri-series in Sri Lanka. No previous Indian team has enjoyed such a successful run in ODIs.
Truth be told, however, this Indian team is neither in the league of the all-conquering West Indian sides led by Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards nor can it be compared to the Australian teams who have gone on to win three World Cup tournaments. There are weaknesses and, to be fair to Dhoni, he pointed out the areas in which the team needed to improve on the eve of the Champions Trophy. Arriving in South Africa he made an honest assessment that sloppy fielding and inconsistency in the bowling were concern areas. Actually this was fairly evident even in Colombo when easy run outs were muffed, dolly catches were dropped and Dhoni himself missed a couple of stumping chances. In an intense competition as the Champions Trophy, such errors would obviously be compounded and any team aspiring to win the title cannot get away with sub standard work in the field.
Much the same could be said about the bowling. In Colombo, the standards were sky high one day and the depths were plumbed the next. It was hoped, however, that the seam attack would bowl with much more purpose and consistently in South Africa given the fast and bouncy tracks which would help them in their skill and craft. All they had to do was to put the ball in the right areas and judiciously mix the bouncer with the yorker, the slower one with the one that swings away and the batsmen were bound to be in trouble. Unfortunately the pace attack failed to do this in both the important matches against Pakistan and Australia. During the long association between Mohammed Yousuf and Shoaib Malik, the bowling seemed bereft of ideas and the fielding wilted under pressure.
Under normal circumstances chasing down a target of 300 plus would have been possible had the batting been at full strength. After all, the Indians have repeatedly chased down seemingly impossible targets and not just on sub continental tracks. But the absence of Yuvraj Singh made a huge difference. The experienced left-hander is in a class of his own when it comes to consistently big hitting, being in total command over the bowling and lifting the morale of his teammates in taking control of any situation. It is clear that his presence was sorely missed in the run chase against Pakistan.
So has Dhoni, the man with the Midas touch, run out of luck? The good fortune factor has to be touched upon since no captain can enjoy such an extended successful run without luck playing a part. I remember Ajit Wadekar winning three consecutive Test series during the 1971 â? 1973 period and while the crowds in England shouted "Waddy, Waddy" hailing the victorious captain there were those in India who said "lucky, lucky" while harping on the good fortune factor that aided him and his team.
It is only to be hoped that Dhoniiâ?s luck does not turn on him with a vengeance like it turned on Wadekar during the disastrous tour of England in 1974. In his own forthright manner he has admitted that mistakes were made during the Champions Trophy. Admitting your mistakes is the first step towards rectifying them and there is a breathing space since the next ODI series against Australia is sometime away. It is to be hoped that the return of Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan will see the Indians return to their winning ways. However while there is nothing to worry about Indiaaâ?s traditional strength â? the batting â? when the team is at full strength the areas of concern over the bowling and fielding remain and will have to be addressed. There is also a question mark over the No 7 slot, for, neither Yusuf Pathan nor Abhishek Nayyar seem to be the answer to a batting or bowling all rounder. Perhaps Irfan Pathan is still the best bet.