India win the ODI series but fail to convince May 15, 2007

Too many questions, too few answers

India won the ODI series but their below-par performance has highlighted more problems than solutions

But for the rescue act from Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik in the first match, India could have been seriously embarrassed © Getty Images

It was always going to be a lose-lose series for India; even a 2-0 scoreline in the one-day internationals against Bangladesh was not going to be enough to detract from that feeling but would only be seen as the first step towards a long process of redemption. Losing a game, on the other hand, would have come as a rude shock. India avoided that - but only just.

What India could have achieved was something intangible. Virender Sehwag, for example, could have been expected to eliminate a few strokes and face a hundred balls if not score as many runs. He didn't. The team could have been expected to field with much more purpose and intensity, looking like a team that was going to show, as Ravi Shastri remarked, "no mercy". They didn't. The bowlers could have been more imaginative when an Aftab Ahmed or a Tamim Iqbal went on the rampage. They weren't.

All they managed in the end was to avoid losing; and as the team looked lethargic, the World Cup result did not look like an aberration.

It is necessary, of course, to bear in mind two things: one, that the conditions were tough, the weather sapping enough to drag a team's performance level down to about 80%; and two, that India won both the ODIs played. Yet the Indian team didn't look as though they wanted to be there; in fact, in the first game, they looked like they wanted to hide. Nor does the 2-0 result inspire confidence that India will be able to end the downward trend; an Australia or a Sri Lanka would have beaten this Indian team performing the way they were in the same conditions. And lack of motivation against Bangladesh should not be an issue; they should not need any after the humiliation at Port-of-Spain.

You can take your pick of the bad news. Sehwag's failures at the top of the order suggest an air of arrogance; Zaheer Khan did not look even a pale shadow of the bowler who had bounced back into the team in South Africa. Sreesanth tried to ape Andre Nel in bullying Tamim in the first game and was lucky to have gone for just 14 after spraying the ball all over. The bowlers' fielding - actually, the outfielding per se - was worse than it was before the World Cup. The spinners did not look like they could make anything happen; indeed, Bangladeshi journalists wondered whether this was the best spin attack India could muster.

Apart from Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Man of the Series, Dinesh Karthik, who added to a reputation first built in South Africa, and Gautam Gambhir, the century-maker, India played uninspiring cricket. They probably did not have the personnel to inspire; the selection for the series was confused. And a tour that was supposed to answer some questions simply raised even more. If youth was the criteria, why pick Dinesh Mongia? If Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly have merely been "rested", what will India do with five potential one-day openers when they return? Even Gambhir's century, one of the few acts of inspiration, has complicated matters. Will they still stick to Sehwag? Will they drop Robin Uthappa without having given him a long enough run? Will they drop Gambhir after this century? Will Ganguly come back?

One man who could have answered some of these questions was Ravi Shastri, the coach-cum-cricket manager. Yet Shastri's press conferences were all wit and optimism, the gung-ho, celebratory air often appearing out of place given the quality of the opposition. No disrespect to Bangladesh, especially after their exploits at the World Cup, but the hosts were inexperienced opposition who did not play their best game for long enough. Yet, but for Dhoni's escape act, India could very easily have been embarrassed. Two matches may be too short a time to judge a team but the way India played suggests they need to put in a lot of work before facing up to the bigger challenges that lie ahead in this cramped season.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer with Cricinfo Magazine