Australia v India, World Cup 2015, 2nd semi-final, Sydney March 26, 2015

India swept away by Australia's depth

India's Plan A in this World Cup had worked flawlessly over seven matches. When they came up against the toughest opponents in the World Cup, however, they were left scrambling for a back-up plan
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At one point during his innings, MS Dhoni would have looked at the scoreboard: Australia 328 for 7, India needing 121 in 48 balls. Far too many given at the end, far too many gone at the beginning, those damned Australians in their faces all over again. As if this black Sydney night, with its cool breeze, waving tricolours and general noise, was part of the forgettable tri-series gone by and not where he really found himself - in the World Cup semi-final, after almost six weeks in which Dhoni's team produced cricket of an astonishing efficiency not known of Indian teams before them to find their way into the final four.

This World Cup performance was not a prototype of the India team or Indian cricket, at large. This preternatural form of play at one point actually turned worrisome, with the fear that the Indian team would trip when they absolutely could not afford to. On Thursday night, the Indian team didn't trip, they ran into the one wall that they knew they couldn't leap over or smash through, the one team they had failed to beat all through the southern summer.

What could not be quelled and overcome on Thursday, was the quality of Australia's play and India's own limitations, which turned up at the SCG in ultra-HD and surround sound at a time when they could not afford it.

In 2011, India's World Cup campaign had stuttered and stumbled with their bowlers held together on duct tape and optimism, but when it came to the three knock-out games where they had to, as the Americans say, "Bring it", they did so.

In 2015, India brought it all the way to the semi-finals and were then found out. A multi-nation, multi-venue, sprawling event like the World Cup can cover some holes, but it is a camouflage that is spread too thin. Against Australia, India ran up against opponents who were nothing like they had faced earlier in the World Cup: a side with range and depth in their batting all the way to hitters at No. 8, express left-arm pace and a personal back-of-hand knowledge of conditions. In the group stage, it was only South Africa who could have given the Indians a stern lesson in objectivity, but India batted first in Melbourne and were swept away by a plus-300 target and a wall of Indian sound ringing down from the stands.

India's World Cup had been based on two set patterns of play which went awry today. When batting first, one of their top three going on all the way to the end and blasting off in the last 15 or 12 overs. When bowling first, wickets in the first 15 overs and turning the pressure on a twitchy middle-order.

Before the semi-final, the average score of any side batting first against India read 78 for 3. Australia got to 105 for 1 in 20, on the back of Steven Smith's innings against a line-up he must believe he can face, maybe not blindfolded, but, at least, in the dark.

Had India dismissed the second opener and the rest of the middle-order of any other team, the way they did Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Aaron Finch and Michael Clarke within 51 runs in eight overs today, a total of 300 would have been a stretch. There lies the difference between "any other team" and the lot who will be competing for the World Cup on Sunday. Clarke's departure marked the arrival of Australia's late-order blunt instruments and their force became too much for the Indian seamers to absorb: 70 off the last six overs, 40 off the last three, including 27 off 9 balls from Mitchell Johnson.

India's bowlers failed to absorb the blows of Australia's blunt, late-order charge © Getty Images

"We got a bit of reverse-swing going so I felt our bowlers could have done slightly better," Dhoni said. He believed the bowlers were slightly too full in their length - "We were slightly more up than where we should have been" - because of the nature of the pitch and then said, "We could have done something better, but it doesn't really matter now."

Yorkers, maybe, or a few bouncers, as three of the seven Australian wickets did fall to the short ball. An idea to be considered in theory but, against Faulkner and Johnson, the chances of it working are thin. At a time when the batsmen are fresh, the seamers pushed to their very edges, the best executed plans get tossed out of the window because of improvisation, big bats and too few men in the deep.

Depending on what could have been when Maxwell had started out on his 360 degrees of exploration, 328 looked respectable. Besides the first thought was, "At least it wasn't the score from the 2003 final." In a World Cup group game, going for the 328 would have been a lark; in a semi-final, it is an albatross that could bring down not just the mariner but his entire fleet.

Dhoni later said he knew that any target of over 300 required working to a plan. India went in with the intention of chasing that down because, like he said, "The good thing is our batting line-up, they know how to chase 300." It is a pleasant belief in relatively low-intensity bilaterals. In a World Cup knock-out, 300 becomes a slippery slope. The highest India have ever chased in a World Cup is 288 against Zimbabwe and their highest chase outside Asia remains 325 in the 2002 Natwest Trophy final. To imagine that India could do this when they are a batsman short was not merely optimistic but delusional. In this World Cup, India's designated "allrounder", Ravindra Jadeja, has been one string short in his bow.

In order to pull this chase off, they would need their batsmen to work in clockwork unison, like they had done at the start of the tournament. To bat like they had, at first tilt, against Pakistan and South Africa. What turned up instead was an out-of tune orchestra. Dhoni himself confessed that once India had lost three wickets inside the first 20 overs, the pattern of the chase had slipped out of the side's control.

"Once we were three down, it was difficult. Then we have to try to build a partnership and when you do that the run-rate goes up." The dream scenario at the start of what Dhoni himself called a "gettable" total was to keep wickets till the 30th over and then make a run for it like a T20 match.

India didn't even get to the point of having a good-enough go, because the men at the top got caught up in the rush of the moment and were trying to out-muscle Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. It brought Dhoni in by the 23rd over; maybe pushing himself up the order, like he did in Mumbai 2011, could have given him the batting position he required to be lord and master from behind the wheel.

India's World Cup had featured until now one successful Plan A that had worked seamlessly throughout seven matches. They got their tightest two games early on in the tournament, and worked their way virtually on happy auto-pilot through the smaller nations in the group. Succcessful coin tosses, dropped catches, an opposition who could go from fierce to feeble when the pressure was cranked up a notch, worked in their favour. Perhaps a Plan B wasn't really needed at that time. Except when Plan A goes to the cleaners very suddenly and some crisis management is needed. Like it did on Thursday night.

Four years ago, India had snatched Australia's World Cup from them by taking maximum advantage of their own home conditions. Four years later, Australia did the same - on their own territory. Touche.

India's 2015 World Cup is over, they are world champions no more and Dhoni stripped the moment of any mawkish emotion of having surrendered the World Cup. "Well, it's something that doesn't really belong to anyone," he said. "We definitely took it from someone, so somebody took it from us. It's as simple as that. You know, the best team takes it for four years and then everybody gets their own plans ready, depending on the conditions, and they challenge the one that has the Cup."

That should put the entire jingoistic and frankly charmless "#won'tgiveitback" drama, that the Indian team have been involved in and their devoted fans have bought into, over the last few months, into proper perspective. Thank you, captain.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dexters on March 31, 2015, 5:51 GMT

    Nice article but ending saying charmless "#won'tgiveitback" drama is what charmless is. Thats what fans are for, to support their team even in meaningless way. They are not related to the fact that best team wins. Its what fans do. We will even create #wewilltakeitback next time.

  • Deepak on March 29, 2015, 18:32 GMT

    Its pretty disappointing the way india lost to aus.Toss played a huge role in this match and worked against india.One big plus of the wc was our bowlers performance.But they turned out damp squib in the semis and was found wanting against mighty aus battling lineup.We seriously need to groom a pack of fast bowlers if we have to win matches against opposition like Aussies.

  • Ashok on March 29, 2015, 7:42 GMT

    Agree with Sharda completely. First off Australia is a much superior and deserved to win. Lets get that out of the way. Now I am going analyse the performance from purely Indian perspective. 1. Our bowlers were second to none. Performed very well - this MUST be acknowledged and they need to be looked after. 2. Our batting is not good enough. The feeling is the batting will compensate for our bowling weakness but the reverse was true in this tournament. 3. We got thro' to semifinal because no other team was strong enough to exploit the teams limitations (credit to Indian team). But Aussies had our number. 4. Players like Raina and Jadeja are useless against quality opponents. The performances against teams like bangladesh and Zimbabwe should not be considered when looking at a player's calibre,

  • Jake on March 29, 2015, 3:37 GMT

    Australia have lost the toss. Which is good. Makes the game fairer . There will be no crying or excuses if we lose. We will congratulate NZ on a great performance.

  • Dummy4 on March 29, 2015, 1:42 GMT

    Can't two Tamil Nadu players play in the Indian Team? Murali Vijay did exceptionally well in the test series 2 centuries and a 90 he is a a good fielder as well. The very first Test he played he brilliantly ran out two Aussies. When Srikanth was playing W Raman a good batter was overlooked. Murali Karthik Dinesh Karthik got raw deals. Why is this step motherly treatment?

  • Jake on March 28, 2015, 20:26 GMT

    It will be tougher for India in the next World Cup in England. more opposition teams play well in English conditions.

  • Imad on March 28, 2015, 19:56 GMT

    I said before this WC that Australia would be the team to beat, New Zealand are the dark horses and this is SA's best chance to shine. The other two main teams are Sri Lanka and India - but outside the subcontinent I knew both these teams would be weak. After watching a bit of SL play I realised they have no bowling so there chances of getting anywhere were slim - but their batting showed some real class. India are much better than they were 4/5 years ago playing outside India - batsmen like Rohit, Kohli, Rahane are much better at playing the short ball. To get to the SF the only decent team that India beat were really SA. However, losing to Australia in that fashion is not a total disgrace - they have thrashed teams that are used to playing in these conditions in the last few years. I couldn't believe they were going to play Raina against Australia after his performances on previous tours.

  • Ram on March 28, 2015, 17:26 GMT

    Indian players are obviously all very talented and skilled. What they need to do is to seriously review what they have been eating. All those loads of carb , starch, grease and sodium rich Desi Foods they may be eating impairs their judgement and mental clarity much required in crunch situation. How else could we explain Dhawan, Kohli and Rohit's rash shots?!!

  • joff on March 28, 2015, 14:30 GMT

    Rohit is not good as opener. Viay should replace rohit.

  • Muhammad on March 28, 2015, 14:05 GMT

    Exposed at right time after easy path.

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