Colombo: Mahendra Singh Dhoni wasn't seeking to create a smokescreen when he said that India's performance at the World Twenty20 was 'satisfactory'. Truth be told, it was a pretty decent outing for the team, which registered its first Super Eights victories in three editions, and only went out on net run rate.
It was always on the cards, given India's dodgy bowling resources, that the batting would have to bail the team out. It didn't necessarily pan out that way, as India bowled out four teams in five matches. In the one that got away, the Super Eights clash against Australia, the bowlers came unstuck.
That crushing nine-wicket drubbing was India's only loss of the competition, as Australia won with an incredible 31 deliveries to spare. In the final analysis, that combined with Pakistan's commanding 32-run win over Australia on Tuesday evening to stymie India's bid for its first semifinal appearance since 2007, when it won the title.
That India has come some distance as a Twenty20 force - it has climbed to No. 2 in the ICC rankings - is unquestioned. But to many, it is also a bit of a surprise that when India wore the 2007 crown, the Indian Premier League was just being conceptualised. Since it has taken firm root, India haven't been competitive at the ICC World Twenty20.
The IPL, as Dhoni pointed out, is an entirely different beast, a mix of India internationals, lesser-known domestic players and some overseas stars making up each team. Resources are spread across nine, occasionally ten, outfits, and while Indian players have picked up various nuances of the Twenty20 game playing with international cricketers, they are also at a distinct disadvantage in that their own games are all too well known to players from across the world.
Every Indian player worth his salt plays in the IPL, while from other countries, not more than a handful of key players turn up for various franchises. Consequently, while there is little about India's players that the rest of the world doesn't know, the same doesn't necessarily apply to India themselves. It will be foolhardy to blame the IPL for India's lack of success on the world stage, but it is undeniable that it has made for a global cricketing village with few secrets, especially when it comes to India and its players.
Few would have thought that a brief spell of rain, lasting no more than five minutes, could have such far-reaching ramifications as far as India were concerned. That period of precipitation perhaps sealed India's fate; India had gone in with three specialist spinners for the only time in the tournament, hoping to strangulate Australia on a sluggish pitch with the turning ball.
The rain meant that every time the ball went to the outfield, it came back wet; it also meant that, with the covers not coming on instantaneously, the pitch freshened up a little and brought the ball nicely on to the bat, just the invitation that Shane Watson and David Warner required to unleash their fury.
Before and after that game, India played quite well after starting shakily against Afghanistan. India were close to their best against England despite putting out an experimental eleven. Against Pakistan, they were simply unstoppable, a bundle of energy, passion, hunger and desire.
It was also to their credit that they managed to retain their focus and fashion a one-run win over South Africa in their final group game, long after they had been eliminated. It would have been easy to give it all away with nothing on the line anymore; India didn't lose sight of the fact that it was still an international game, and somehow re-gathering concentration, they held their poise till the end.
The big gains were the encouraging returns of Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Lakshmipathi Balaji, after long phases on the sidelines for various different reasons. Irfan Pathan was passable all the way through, while Zaheer Khan picked his game up after starting poorly. R Ashwin was miserly as ever, but less of a wicket-taking force with teams opting to play him with circumspection.
The big disappointments were in the batting department, with Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir in particular flattering to deceive. There was national outrage when Sehwag was dropped against Australia; on his comeback, he again played without a care in the world, finishing the tournament with 54 runs from three innings off 51 deliveries. Gambhir suggested he was ready for bigger things with 45 against England, but signed out with 80 from 72 balls in five innings. Numbers that were nowhere near good enough for a team so heavily dependent on starts.
Virat Kohli, doing his burgeoning reputation no harm at all, Rohit Sharma in patches, Suresh Raina and Dhoni himself, batting low down but with the freedom of the past, shored up the batting alongside Yuvraj, but with India not once getting off to a frenetic start, there was only so much that even a strong middle order could do on pitches without any pace. Australia was the game that broke the back, though it didn't destroy the spirit, as India showed against Pakistan and South Africa.
Dhoni was a touch annoyed when asked if an overhaul wasn't on the cards. "The same question was asked in Australia, it is one question that always arises if you haven't done well," he said, displeasure all too obvious. "You see the performances in this tournament, we lost just one game, we lost it badly, yes, but at the end, we lost just one out of five."
That is a fact, but it didn't stop a recurrence of the early-flight-home syndrome. India must look inwards to see whether and where changes need to be made. Not necessarily to attitudes, but certainly in terms of personnel.
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