After India beat Sri Lanka in their last league encounter, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma were asked at the post-match ceremony if India would fancy playing New Zealand in their semi-final and not England. Neither batsman answered the question directly. Instead, with a straight face, they said that no team could be taken lightly in knock-out stage. What happened two days after that interview, in a match which ironically went on for two days, was jus that. New Zealand, the team that many thought had no business being in semi-final because they made it to top 4 because of better run-rate, knocked India over to enter their 2nd World Cup final in a row. That is also India's 2nd World Cup semi-final defeat in a row.
So, what went wrong for Team India? Some experts saw a pattern in losing these two semi-finals and one Champions Trophy 2017 final - that Team India did not perform well in pressure situations.
Some thought it was rain that spoiled India's momentum when they had New Zealand on the mat on the first day. And Virat Kohli thought that it was "45 minutes" of bad cricket that saw them out of the tournament.
But was it really about the one bad game in the knock-out stage? We dig deep.
First of all, let's address the elephant in the room. The MSD question.
Was Dhoni responsible for the fall of this team? The answer is an emphatic NO.
It's a no secret that Mahendra Singh Dhoni is not a force that he used to be. The man with more than 10,000 ODI runs and a batting average in excess of 50 is still deemed as the "Best Finisher" by his fans and many cricket pundits. So what happened to Dhoni? Why did he show no intent to win that game versus England? Why did he not come up the order in the semi-final? Why did he farm strike against Bangladesh when he could not hit those big shots? Why? Why? Why?
The answer to all those questions lies in a simple reason -- sometimes your gut feeling works and sometimes it does not!
Handing the final over to Joginder Sharma in 2007 T20 World Cup. Giving Ishant Sharma the ball in the 2013 Champions Trophy final when England needed 28 off 18 and the bowler had gone for 27 runs in his three overs. Dhoni has always played the game on his instincts.
Like in the game against the West Indies this World Cup. Dhoni refused three singles in the last over only to hit remaining three balls for six, four and six! In the game against Bangladesh, the same method didn't work.
Against Sri Lanka in 2013, Dhoni took the match deep and hit 15 runs in the last over to win it! In the game against England, taking match deep didn't work.
Like in 2011 World Cup final, Dhoni's decision to promote himself over Yuvraj has now been well documented in a movie because it worked. Had Dhoni made to his crease in the crunch moment of the semi-final match, who knows, the decision to send Dhoni at number 7 might have been hailed as a masterstroke!
Yes, Dhoni's consistency with a big flourish has faded. His rotation of strike in the early part of his stay is a concern. But was Dhoni the problem that cost India this World Cup?
Scoring 273 runs in 9 matches with an average of 45.50 says otherwise.
Here are 3 reasons where India lost the World Cup
1. Too much dependence on Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli
India came to England on the back of five-match ODI series loss to Australia in India. A 2-3 defeat when they were leading the series by 2-0 at one stage.
The loss was brushed as a one-off series after some rigorous international tours and non-stop cricket. In those five matches, Kohli scored two centuries, Dhawan scored one and Sharma looked in fine nick. How many hundreds did the other batsmen score in that five-match series you may ask? ZERO.
Fifties? TWO. Both of them came in first match. No score of fifty by any batsman in the last series before World Cup where the team management were handing auditions for batsmen to come and cement their place.
This was not the first time. For the last two years, India's top three done bulk of the scoring with at least one of them going big. Kohli becoming the top ODI batsman and Sharma following him with 2nd spot made all of us forget for some time that the middle-order conundrum was waiting to explode. With Dhawan out of the tournament due to injury, it was just a matter of time. And it exploded.
2. Captaincy style
Wisdom tells us that our greatest strength can often also be our weakness. There is no denying that Virat Kohli is the most passionate cricketer on field that we see today. The passion, the energy, the ruthlessness works so well for Kohli's batting that he is currently miles ahead of his counterparts in all formats of cricket.
But sometimes captaincy requires a cooler head than a steaming one. Kohli impressed everyone with his proactive leadership this World Cup but this one tendency of making too many changes to the team composition has come in for criticism for long now.
Kedar Jadhav was dropped after the England game to give chance to Dinesh Karthik. Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal were sometimes tried together, sometimes individually, with the pace combination, resulting in no core formation. Apart from injury replacements for Dhawan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Vijay Shankar, Kohli kept on changing the composition of the squad with all members but one getting at least a game to play.
The only player missing out was Mayank Aggarwal who came in very late as injury replacement. Who knows if we reached the final, maybe Kohli would have given him his debut cap!
3. No match-up to a match-winning squad
Before the World Cup, Virat Kohli came up with a gem. Asked if he thinks we would see a lot of high-scoring games and teams piling up scores of 400-500, Kohli said that the cricket World Cup was a different game than bilateral cricket. The World Cup pressure was too much on the players and a score of 270-280, which looks like a piece of cake in bilateral ODIs would turn out to be match-winning in a high-tension chase.
Kohli couldn't have been more right in his assessment. But what Team India got completely wrong in their assessment was the team composition in a tournament which is not won on individual brilliance.
Sample India's 2011 winning squad. Yuvraj Singh was Man of the Tournament. Sachin Tendulkar was second-highest run scorer. Zaheer Khan was the highest wicket-taker. That's just not the dominance from three players. That's a stat which tells that the team had best batsman, best bowler and best all-rounder of the tournament.
Let's compare the 2011 team to 2019 team. Top three of Tendulkar, Sehwag and Gambhir are a like-to-like match with Sharma, Kohli and Dhawan. Maybe a like-to-like swap of Zaheer to Bumrah.
But that is where the comparison ends. The 2011 team had a promising Kohli, a powerful Yuvraj Singh, superb Suresh Raina and Dhoni in his prime to follow top three. Compare that to the tentative KL Rahul and players like Vijay Shankar, Rishabh Pant, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya and Dhoni in his decline. The gap couldn't have been wider!
(Chayan Rastogi is an anchor, producer and cricket enthusiast at NDTV Hop)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.