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By Suresh Menon
After the West Indies match, one thing became clearer than before: India are not the favourites to win the World Cup. They struggled against a side which did not play either their best batsman (Chris Gayle) or their best bowler (Kemar Roach), and had to depend on the old reliable Zaheer Khan to pull them back into the game with a crucial wicket when things seemed to be slipping. Zaheer has been doing this now with remarkable regularity, but can he do it at least two more times?
No team has shown any marked superiority at this stage. Australia lost their first match in the World Cup after 12 years, and that might just be the tonic they need to get it all together. England have played tighter matches than the others, losing to Ireland and Bangladesh, but beating South Africa and the West Indies while their match against India ended in a tie. That’s the full gamut, only an abandoned match is missing (rain, crowd trouble, eruption of a volcano in Iceland).
South Africa haven’t managed to erase their image as chokers, and neither have Pakistan their air of unpredictability. Sri Lanka have looked good, but India have had their measure in recent years.
In short, this is an open World Cup, and we haven’t learnt anything about the teams that we didn’t know already. All teams in the quarterfinal know they have to get it right for just two matches and they are in the final. That can cut both ways. A bad day, and the campaign is over.
Reading the tea leaves after the India-West Indies game didn’t tell us anything new. India showed they are not over-dependant on Tendulkar, but it was difficult to shake off the feeling that they continue to be a one-man team. That man keeps changing. On Sunday it was Yuvraj Singh whose century lacked the fluidity and ease of some of his other efforts. But that only emphasised how much he had dissolved his personality in the team cause.
Yet, as in the past, after the centurion, the flood. It happened against England, then against South Africa when Tendulkar’s dismissal saw nine wickets fall for 29 runs, and now here. India lost seven wickets for 50, which one presumes is an improvement, but the problem remains. That of losing wickets in a heap.
With no one to guide the lower middle order, it will be a problem if India continue to be dismissed before the 50 overs are bowled. Skipper Dhoni batted at five, and is the natural to play that role, but the first time he decided to get aggressive he was stumped. Yuvraj falling just before the forced power play in the 46th over meant that here was further evidence that India hadn’t worked out their power play problem.
There is an arbitrariness in taking the power play that doesn’t speak too well of the skipper or his coach and the think tank. Surely these experienced players discuss match situations, simulate conditions and arrive at the best moment to take the power play?
Another element they haven’t mastered is the Decision Review System. When Edwards was run out (and not given out by the umpire), there was a half-hearted, half-humorous attempt by Munaf Patel to draw attention to it, but no clear-headed decision-making that would have earned India a wicket. India might not like the DRS, but they had better get familiar with it if they are not to miss out like this.
It will get tougher from here on, and India will need all the friends they can get. It is time they began to treat the DRS as a friend. Australia will not miss a trick; India cannot afford to.