A World Cup lost, but will India learn from their mistakes?

Australia v India: Semi Final - 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup

Pic courtesy: GETTY IMAGES

By Mayur Lookhar

So, as determined as the Indian team was in their ”We won’t give it back’ motto, truth is a ruthless Australia snatched it from right under their noses, earning a deserving victory in the semi-final, and spot in a World Cup final for the seventh time. Man to man, India were simply no match for the Australians.

Now before one gets into dissecting team India’s loss, as an Indian, you can’t but applaud the efforts of MS Dhoni and his boys. After all, let’s be honest, even the most ardent Indian fans hadn’t given a chance for India to make the semi-finals, leave alone another World Cup triumph. Winless in Tests, winless in the tri-series, who would have thought that Dhoni’s men will win 7 successive games, and their only loss would come in the semi-final? Unexpected, unbelievable, quite simply, A MAGNIFICENT turnaround.

A true blue Indian cricket fan (Not the insane ones who are burning effigies of the players or blaming Anushka Sharma for the loss) would be truly proud of Dhoni and his boys. The triumphs of 2011,and 1983 will always be on the top of the list, but when has India performed so consistently, so ruthlessly at a World Cup before? That too without the Tendulkars, the Sehwags, the Yuvrajs. Bravo Dhoni, bravo team India.

It wouldn’t be a hard task to dissect this loss, but this defeat has yet again exposed the grey areas that were masked under India’s 7 wins at this tournament.

Dhoni in the post-match press conference defended the delayed assault citing the lack of confidence in his lower order. Well, he was proved right when the last 4 wickets fell in a heap. In contrast, Australia had Mitchell Johnson batting at number 9, as he smacked 27 runs off just 9 deliveries. The worry for India was that if a tense situation arrived, India could never bank on the likes of Ashwin, Shami, Mohit, Umesh to save the day with the bat. The tail though effectively started at no.7, where Ravindra Jadeja has hardly produced a match-winning knock.

In 2011, India had Harbhajan Singh batting at number 8, followed by Zaheer Khan, two men who were more than capable of striking few blows, or at least preserving their wickets for the regular batsman at the other end Shami, Umesh and Mohit simply didn’t have the skills of their predecessors.

India weren’t challenged by any team since the high-pressure opening games against Pakistan and South Africa. Yes, we did beat the West Indies by 4 wickets, and Zimbabwe had us down at 93/4, chasing a stiff target of 288, but the fact remained that India weren’t battle-hardened in going in their big game against Australia in the semis.
With a fragile lower order, the onus was clearly on the top 3 to set the game for us. Dhawan emerged as India’s top-scorer, while Sharma played few valuable knocks.

Throwback to the 2013 high-scoring ODI series at home against the Aussies, India won two games chasing 350 plus. What was common about those wins, century-plus opening stands by Dhawan and Sharma, while Kohli getting 100s in both games

It’s a no-brainer that for India to win today, they needed the trio to shine. Every time Kohli is dismissed under 40, India loses most matches. Kohli’s detractors will slam him today, but he’s not going to win you matches every time India needed other to step up. Sadly, it is here that likes of Raina and Rahane were found wanting again. The former did score a vital 70 in the opening game against Pakistan and an unbeaten hundred against a very friendly Zimbabwean bowling attack, but his frailties against the short-ball (at pace) exposed him yet again.

Raina has been around since 2005, and a decade is to long for him to have overcome this deficiency. He might be 28, but the prospects of him elevating his game to another level look bleak.

Rahane is a proven performer in Tests, but his inadequacy at the ODIs is reflected in his inconsistent record. Barring that whirlwind 79 against Proteas, Rahane failed to make the number 4 spot his own. He’s not heavily built, he isn’t a slogger, but the problem with Rahane in ODIs is that he doesn’t maneuver the ball. As was displayed again in his pain-staking 65-ball 44.

Time and again, we’d seen that the likes of Rahane and Rayadu are misfits in the middle order. But, like I’d mentioned earlier, India just didn’t find the right men to replace Yuvraj. The Kedar Jadhavs, the Manoj Tiwarys and the Naman Ojhas were merely called upon in insignificant and solitary game. Where as the Rayadus, Rahanes kept clinging to their spots. Rahane though got his favourite position in England, where he excelled as a opener in a couple of ODIs.
Well, perhaps talk of the selection and the lack of it, is all in hindsight. However, what stuns about India is its reluctance to make change. This rigidness saw the team playing the same eleven in 7 out of the 8 games, leaving the likes of Binny, Axar, Patel and Rayadu to warm the benches.

In contrat to this rigid approach, Australia were very flexible in picking their eleven. Imagine, if Hazlewood was in Indian team, would he have been picked again in the eleven after struggling in the opening games? Australia recalled him for the quarter-final against Pakistan, and didn’t he deliver big time.

India stuck with Jadeja when it was evident that he was their weakest link. Axar Patel, who was preferred over Jadeja in the tri-series, lost the skipper’s faith due to his poor batting. Now, that begs the question why have someone on the bench when you have no confidence in him. India could have been better served at picking leggie Amit Mishra. Yes, he may not be a great fielder, but how good a fielder or a batsman is Ashwin?

Well, all the above is now in hindsight. Going ahead, India needs to rethink its process of preparing for future World Cup. While it’s an ideal plot to pick a talent and then play him 50-60 games to get experience, but it’s not written in gold that you ought to pick such a player in the squad, irrespective of his form and fitness. New Zealand recalled Daniel Vettori after losing patience with Ish Sodhi and Nathan McCullum.

India erred badly in their planning when they kept giving chances to people to find their feet till the 11th hour before the World Cup. That meant that despite their consistent performances in domestic cricket, the likes of Jadhav and Ojha never stood a chance to make it to the World Cup. An odd game was not even a consolation.

India need to guard against this practice going into the future. Among the key changes, India will be well served if Dhoni gives up his wicket-keeping gloves to an Ojha or Sanju Samson. At 33, Dhoni isn’t sure whether he’ll return in 2019, thus Indian cricket would benefit immensely by playing Dhoni purely as number four batsman.

Given the history of our bowlers, you wouldn’t bet on the current lot returning four years later. So, India must give opportunities to young talent like Kuldeep Yadav.

Now, these things are purely subjective, one thing certain though is that India will hire a new coach soon with Duncan Fletcher bowing out, and team director Ravi Shastri likely to return to the comforts of the commentator’s box. BCCI will thus have to decide whether to make Sanjay Bangar as the head coach or will they hire another foreigner. Reportedly, Dhoni wants fellow Chennai Super King Michael Hussey at the helm. If true, then the board should waste no time in hiring him.

Sadly, interests of the national team are likely to take a backseat, as BCCI will be busy washing its hands with the cash-rich IPL. Now that’s a distraction and not Anushka Sharma.

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