'We lost it with the bat' - Dravid
A dismayed Rahul Dravid said later that this was a loss that would "be hard to stomach", given how magnificently the bowlers had performed to restrict Australia to just 213. And though Dinesh Mongia tried his best to salvage the situation with a valiant unbeaten 63, the damage done by Brett Lee early on was just too much to absorb as the match wound its way to a gripping denouement.
"I think we lost it with the bat, there is no doubt about it," said Dravid ruefully. "On that pitch, 213 was gettable, and we should've got there. We didn't string enough partnerships together. We didn't have people, other than Dinesh [Mongia], who got starts and carried on. We needed another 50 from a batsman at the top of the order."
According to him, the debacle was a collective one, with nothing to be gained by singling out individual culprits. "It's important for all of us to stand up and be counted, consistently," he said. "That includes me, I haven't had a very good tournament and I'll be the first one to say that I should've done a lot better. I had a good chance to do that today. If I had batted the full 50 overs, the result would have been different. It starts right at the top, with me."
When questioned about Mahendra Singh Dhoni's moment of recklessness, with India needing just four an over, Dravid refused to be too critical, pointing instead to the frailty at the top of the order. "We all make mistakes and there is no point singling out one person. If you look through the batting order, and leave aside Dinesh, a lot of guys with a lot more experience than Dhoni could have played a lot better.
"These are the kind of losses that hurt. There are some positives, but there are other areas of the game we need to get better at. Everyone in the team will have to look at himself and see if they played according to the demands of the situation. Dhoni is a natural strokemaker, and will probably get out like that."
The positives he spoke of came in the shape of the bowlers, who reined in Australia's batting for the second game in succession, striking blows with pace and spin alike. "The bowling has been good in the last three matches and it's heartening," said Dravid. "Our bowling and fielding have been positive signs."
Though this was India's ninth loss in the last 10 outings against Australia, Dravid dismissed suggestions that they had been overawed by the quality of the opposition. "The guys have played a lot of cricket and have done well against the same bowlers earlier," he said. "I don't think we were overawed, it's just that we lost those four wickets early and that put a lot of pressure on the lower middle order. Dinesh batted really well and controlled the game, but unfortunately there was not enough support for him. To come back after not having played for India for a long time, and to bowl, field and bat the way he did was very creditable.
|Dinesh [Mongia] batted really well and controlled the game. To come back after not having played for India for a long time, and to bowl, field and bat the way he did was very creditable|
"We haven't played well against Australia, and today was a great opportunity. A lot of times, you get outclassed but today we weren't behind by any stretch of imagination. We should have pulled this one through."
There was praise for Mark Benson and the manner in which the Sachin Tendulkar incident was handled, and Dravid brushed off suggestions that it might have contributed to Tendulkar's dismissal in the next over. "The umpire is well within the rules of the game to call back someone if he deems fit, and I think he got it right," he said. "I don't have any issues at the way it was handled. I don't think that rattled him [Sachin] too much. He's an experienced player who has got so many runs in international cricket by being able to play one ball at a time. I'm sure he would have focused on doing that today as well."
The batting order was shuffled around again, with Yuvraj Singh absent and Virender Sehwag restored to the top of the order, but Dravid was categorical that defeat had nothing to do with a change in strategy. "I don't think we are losing games because of that," he said. "When you're asked to chase 213 on a good wicket, you've just got to have batsmen who can bat, who can go on and get scores and partnerships.
"We thought we'd try some things in these two tournaments, and couldn't because of rain. We have gone through our one-day cricket over the last season and identified certain areas which could be addressed. Obviously, we didn't have enough time and enough games, so we went back to the tried-and-tested formula for an important game."
Unfortunately, that formula came unstuck, with the batsmen fluffing their lines against a side that refuses to countenance defeat in crunch games.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo