India’s World Cup Woes

Written by  //  March 20, 2011  //  Sport  //  2 Comments

After watching another miserable performance by Team India, I am left to wonder why the team, despite some truly exceptional individual performances, has put up such a despicable showing in the World Cup. Analysing our performance in the group stages, I think there are three key areas of failure: a complete inability to score in the final ten overs of the innings batting first including anything to do with the batting powerplay; particularly unimaginative captaincy by Dhoni in the field and a lack of stability in the bowling department.

Even to a passing observer of cricket, India’s performance towards the end of their innings batting first will seem woeful. The four matches that India has batted first—against Bangladesh, England, South Africa and now West Indies we have either managed to get bowled out without surviving fifty overs despite having heaps of wickets in hand with ten overs to go (England, South Africa, West Indies) or significantly under-performed against some mediocre bowling (Bangladesh). Now I would venture to suggest that the reason for this complete non-application of mind has been the pervasive influence of IPL and 20-20 cricket on our middle and lower order. In the crash-boom-bang format of 20-20, the middle and lower order batsmen are given the license to throw their bats around at everything because even if one or two connect, an ‘innings’ of 14 runs of 4 balls is deemed a success. Unfortunately for India, its middle order in the 50-over format is still under this spell. Yusuf Pathan is a prime example of this, attempting to whack every ball he faces, irrespective of its merit and irrespective of the situation of the game, out of the ground. The fact that most of our Indian commentators, former stalwarts of the game, who for lack of anything better to say, build up this sense of hype and expectation does little to help, other than fill the ordinary cricketers who comprise our middle and lower order with a faux hubris that they are capable of hitting a yorker for six. Not only does this make for ugly cricket—an attempted hoik off a full length delivery such as the one Kohli attempted to play today—but ugly cricket that is born out of incredible stupidity. Few things can be worse.

One such thing which has been worse has been Dhoni’s captaincy this World Cup. Our subsequent performances notwithstanding, in the group stages, time and again Dhoni has been found wanting—with his field placements, bowling changes and general ability to being the dynamic leader we have been accustomed to seeing. I have a strong suspicion that part of the reason for this is certainly the hype that the media has built around Dhoni and the famed gut instinct which drives his captaincy. Now it must be said Dhoni does have such a raw instinct on which he operates (giving the last over of the 20-20 World Cup Final to Joginder Sharma is a prime example) and generally has a calm demeanour that does much to inspire confidence. But I would conjecture that this celebration of Dhoni’s casually cerebral approach to captaincy has gone to his head ever so slightly. The completely uninspiring bowling changes and field placements during Strauss and Bell’s partnership, handing the ball to Nehra for the last over against South Africa after two economical overs by Harbhajan Singh before and despite South Africa’s well known inability in understanding the concept of spin bowling which led them to naturalise a Pakistani, let alone playing it are signs of utter complacency. If such complacency persists, an early farewell from the World Cup would not be entirely surprising.

But if such an exit does happen against Australia, I can safely say that the prime culprit will be our uninspiring bowling. The key problem with our bowling has been a lack of stability- we have played different bowling line-ups in four of our six matches. Zaheer Khan has had moments of brilliance in the midst of forgettable mediocrity, Munaf Patel has been consistently inconsistent, Harbhajan Singh is still fighting his demons as to whether he should primarily be a wicket-taking bowler or an economical one, Chawla has shown that though he can turn the ball, he lacks a brain which tells him how, when and against whom to use the turn and Sreesanth and Nehra have been themselves. The only whiff of fresh air was provided by Ashwin today with his intelligent, economical and aggressive off-spin. Wonder which cards Dhoni was playing in keeping him hidden away for so long. It is imperative that Team India settle on a combination—Zaheer, Munaf, Harbhajan and Ashwin select themselves really—work on their fields to the Australian batsmen, watch how they meekly capitulated against Pakistan and ensure they have a strategy in place in the Powerplay overs. A failure to do so will either mean a huge total to chase or a repeat of the loss to South Africa while defending a total, which was not really a failure of any individual in the team as much as a failure of ideas, strategy and intelligent thinking in the bowling department.

With the group stages ending and a month of the World Cup having passed, as a cricket fan I am delighted that it’s been exciting stuff to watch for the most part. As an Indian cricket fan however I have a feeling of emptiness, watching a team that is sublime and ridiculous in quick alternation, and frustration thinking of how much better we could have been. As we prepare to take on Australia on Thursday, as long as the emptiness and frustration don’t translate into another four-year wait for the first time I get to see an Indian lift the World Cup, I will be happy. And will take all my arguments back as quickly as I made them.

About the Author

Arghya is currently doing the doctorate in law at the University of Oxford. Dithering between academia and litigation for a future career but sanguine in Oxford with his current researcher status.

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2 Comments on "India’s World Cup Woes"

  1. Asish Sengupta March 21, 2011 at 9:07 am ·

    Apart from the pure cricketing reasons for India’s mindless performances ,whether in victory or defeat, which you have succinctly summarised, a lot of our problems would have been behind us if some regulator could instil a modicum of responsibility into the section of the fourth estate in the country covering this event which goes by the epithet of World Cup but actually involves a paltry eight countries. The remaining six are of course dragged on to the arena for slaughter so that the former group can derive great satisfaction for having won some (mis)matches . Unfortunately no such regulator exists but the sooner the media realises that even the comments of someone who may not have been good enough to have graduated beyond gully cricket over the national network, under the garb of analysis , is likely to upset the emotional equilibrium of our junior brigade in Team India on the one hand or on the other, anger the captain leading him into the kind of indiscretions which we do not associate with him.
    Indeed the lack of accountability of the media on which you have commented in another article of yours, lies at the root of many an ill plaguing contemporary society. The other pertinent reason is the predominance of the sponsors. Repeated calls to ” turn it on”( de ghumake ) and to hit improvised shots with fanciful names are perhaps taken too literally and end up as recipes for suicide.
    The chief of selectors in an interview immediately after announcing the list of the magnificent fifteen had stated that he had selected the team keeping in mind the cricketing abilities of the 1983 team members to the extent possible. A noble premise, indeed on which to base your team selection! However his matching , I suspect, was limited to cricketing abilities. He and the remaining four wise men would have done well to remember that the present team members are born in a different era and a different milieu where much sleep is unlikely to be lost over victory or defeat and life ( read IPL ) will go on unchallenged.
    Cricket in India in current times is a microcosm of the crass commercialism that epitomises Indian society today, something which was not foreseen even at the turn of the century. So irrespective of the final denouement, shed a few tears for Indian cricket.

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