India v South Africa, Super Eights, World Twenty20, Colombo October 2, 2012

India and South Africa can only blame themselves

If they allow themselves to reflect on the cruelty of the format, both South Africa and India would be distracting themselves from reality: they were inconsistent, scratchy, confused, and poorly led
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When the circumstances of the final Super Eights match of this World Twenty20 fade from memory, a cursory look at the scorecard would point to a heart-stopping thriller. In reality an embarrassment was averted when the match stopped one run short of a tie: a Super Over would have been farcical.

Twenty20 is the ficklest form of the game because matches can turn the narrowest of channels. So fickle in fact that no pre-tournament favourite has ever won the World Twenty20. India would point to the luck of the draw and the fact that Australia's heavy defeat to Pakistan in the penultimate match left them with a near-impossible task, and South Africa would rue the nature of two of their defeats - they allowed Umar Gul, batting at No. 9, to score 32 off 17 balls to lose with two deliveries to spare, and the one-run defeat today.

That the day began with all of the four teams with a chance to make it to the semi-finals would point to the openness of the ground, but if they allow themselves to reflect on the cruelty of the format, both South Africa and India would be distracting themselves from reality: the truth is that their early flight home was well-earned. They were inconsistent, scratchy, confused, and poorly led.

It could be argued that the winning teams in Group 1 have had an easier ride than in Group 2, and that in the latter group it came down to whose bad day was the worst. But there is another way of looking at it. Both Australia and Pakistan made sure that their better days were overwhelmingly good. No one can suggest that the best two teams from the group of death didn't make it to the knock-out stage.

Australia swamped India and South Africa, and even in their worst defeat, they made sure they did enough to secure their semi-final berth. And facing elimination after a familiarly nervy defeat against India, Pakistan put together such a massive act of strangulation that it knocked South Africa out and left India clutching despondently at a mathematical possibility.

In principle, India were better-placed than Pakistan at the start of the day because they would go in to their game knowing exactly what they needed to do. But Pakistan made the task so stiff that India would have to play well above themselves to even have a sniff. India staggered to their highest total in the Super Eights, but it was at least 30 runs short.

Having maintained their impeccable record of never making it to the final of a World Cup, South Africa will leave Sri Lanka even more despondently. They arrived at the tournament with a glow and an aura. The bowling carried menace up front, they had a crafty spinner, the batting had the combination of class and muscle and depth, and they could be always be relied on to be sharp of the field.

And there was something else. AB de Villers became the first South African captain to publicly confront the biggest taboo for his team. Yes, they had choked, he told a stunned audience before the tournament in a manner that suggested a coming-to-terms with a troubled past and a belief they could break free of it.

They began the tournament with such force - their pace bowlers were frightening even in a seven-over lottery against Sri Lanka - that they headed to the Super Eights with the air of a team certain of its destiny. It ended with the captain conceding that he was leaving with his head spinning, and admitting, completely unprompted, that the team had choked once more in the game against Pakistan. Stepping out of a state of denial can be counted as progress, but in reality, South Africa failed even to advance to a stage where they could suffer a proper choke.

The bowling largely held up, but the batsmen failed South Africa massively. Hashim Amla's lack of runs at the top order was inexplicable, Jaques Kallis never got going, and bafflingly, de Villers, until the final match, never thought of himself worthy of the No. 4 spot. Against Pakistan, he appeared at No. 6, a spot behind Farhaan Behardien.

De Villers made no excuses. He admitted that his team had never clicked in the second half of the tournament. But his appeal to the South African fans not to give up hope is unlikely to find resonance. Not winning a single game in the business part of a tournament must rank a new low even in the context of their wretched record at world events.

On paper, India had a much better tournament. But MS Dhoni's labeling it "satisfactory" rang equally hollow. Admittedly, they found themselves in the tougher group, but everything else was in their favour. They played all their matches at one venue - the only team to do so - and more crucially, the venue suited their game. After some early life in their opening match against Afghanistan, the pitches at Premadasa became slower and drier.

It was not the bowling, never expected to be more than adequate, that failed them. Incredibly, they bowled out their opponents four out five times. But in the match they were bad, they were shown up so spectacularly by Shane Watson and David Warner that it pushed them, in the final analysis, fatally down in the net run-rate equation.

But it was the batting that didn't turn up. The problems with the openers, growing glaringly obvious with each match, deprived the team of a base. The middle order revolved entirely, and unhealthily, around Virat Kolhi. And apart from the match against England, the late flourish never arrived.

And ultimately, Dhoni can't escape scrutiny. He has been a remarkable leader on many accounts. But some of his selections and tactics on the field have been perplexing. After watching Pakistan bowl 18 overs of spin to neuter Australia, he chose to pick one spinner against a team comfortable with pace; didn't bowl his lead spinner till the 10th over, brought on Rohit Sharma before using his last specialist bowler, and gave away easy singles while defending 121.

India is the land of milk and honey for Twenty20 cricket. It is the laboratory where international players sharpen their Twenty20 skills. Yet India have failed to reach the final stages of the last three World Twenty20s. Tough questions and tough decisions can't wait forever.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Naresh28 on October 6, 2012, 10:03 GMT

    India need to unearth new bowlers. From the domestic scene Harshal Patel looks like a good future prospect. Guys like Sreesanth and RP Singh need to be reignited. RP was one of the star bowlers in the T20 in 2007. We also need a new Nehra type bowler - a lrft armer. In a T20 a team should believe they can bowl opposition out for less than 130. India needs a good bowlers and only then we can compete in this type of format.

  • Naresh28 on October 5, 2012, 10:18 GMT

    After all the crap from rival fans. INDIA WON THE U19 WC IN OZ just a few months ago!!!!!!!!! Call us flat track bullies etc. We proved to the world that with youth we can go places!!!!!!

  • Alexk400 on October 4, 2012, 20:22 GMT

    Let me tell you how i make a T20 Team. I will find all batsman whose strike rate average is above 120. if you are below 120 , you are not qualified. That eliminate whole team except sehwag and raina. Also it will be impossible for india to post big scores without rampaging sehwag. When you remove sehwag , 140 will be your max score in international matches. IPL is exbition game. Dhoni is a slogger. He can slog last 4 overs for sure. But for others to get to 130 /16 is asking too much. Never gona happen. So with 140 india can not defend against bad teams like SA who can't bat against good spinners. And what dhoni do he removed extra spinner. I still have no clue why rohit sharma with his awful strike rate in the team. Dhoni and Duncan fletcher lacked common sense and a plan. India really need left arm wrist spinner. Mishra and Chawla are not good because their fingers are small no revolution or rip on the ball. They float everything to be hit for six. Time to dump dhoni and fletcher

  • g.narsimha on October 4, 2012, 12:53 GMT

    IndnCrikfan-u r more than 100% correct bro , BUT IT IS NOT CRICKET FANS ALL OVER THE WORLD only our nieghbours are on single agenda of demeaning insulting ind on every loss , if we win as one arrogant pak fan put it as they allowed to wion us some one said that RAHMAN MALIK thier minister insured our win what a disgusting thinking , in this tournment our batting let us down most of the times bowlers did thier job but main problem is enternal fued among seniors its high time we should through out DHONI he is arrogant , i cant understand how he could still run the roost even after loosing 8 consicutive tests & failing ASIACUP, NOW IN T-20 WC , the only hope is the new selection committee they may put full stop on his dectorial methods hope for the better .

  • dummy4fb on October 4, 2012, 12:23 GMT

    There can't be a more banal display of captaincy or the lack of it from MSD. His bias against Ashwin was so obvious, right from the NZ test series (he used to bring him last and even though he took bucketful of wickets..in fact, his banal handling of Ashwin allowed Taylor to score a 100 in BLR test match, when Ash had been castling him left, right and center). Can you imagine the best bowler in the team being brought in with just 20 runs to defend, against a light batting unit like SA? can you imagine the absurdity of him defending Rohit sharma's non-violent, selfish batting? Only MSD can do such things and get away. He has not done one cerebral, right from the time he took on the captaincy. All his wins are full of luck, just like the recent SA game. He needs to go, not only from captaincy but from WK role too

  • g.narsimha on October 4, 2012, 11:25 GMT

    WICKYROYPAKLOVER -So u r here again , can u enlighten me in what way pak is best team of this group if u lose it is becouse of u r meharbaani u r making tall claims ,the team which was shot out for just for 120 + that too vrs an worse,below clublevel attack as u people term our attack to just insult us &won the match vrs SA with the help of a fluck inning from GUL 15 BALL 30 RUNS OTHER WISE U R TEAM AS USUAL WOULD NOT HAVE REACHED 3 DIGIT thats biggest upset of the tuornment ,we are not like u people u r performance vrs AUS was best , reg our bowling we took all wickets vrs u what was u r bowlers score ,our bowlers made allout 4 times out of 5 ,how u r bowlers fared one more thing u r great bowler was as usual treated as clublevel by indians it appears others also playing him confidently as he could not dominate any team now it is clear that our captains arrogance , bad selection internal fued , contributed , player to player comparigion where u stand cant reach 3 figures most

  • tvumpire.com on October 4, 2012, 10:51 GMT

    Based on wins the teams r in the order SL(5), Aus, Ind, Pak,- (4) and WI (3). But fortunately, WI was in an easy group and they got semi. And Aus, Ind and Pak were in the same group were only 2 will get the birth. Aus did an adjustment with Pak and ensure both r safe. So, no need to disappoint, well done team India. We are reached 2nd place in T20 ranking. which shows our efforts. And I guess we will be in top3 at least whoever win the cup.

  • Leggie on October 4, 2012, 8:33 GMT

    For once I see Sachin not being blamed for the defeat!

  • Muthu81 on October 4, 2012, 7:34 GMT

    Super Eights grouping is not convincing. This time, the super Eights were decided irrespective of the performance in the League Stage. So, unfortunately, though India were the group toppers, they had to play all the other group toppers Australia, Pakistan and South Africa. This is a format error made by ICC. India and South Africa paid the price for this error. This made it easier for teams like West Indies and SriLanka to make it to semis by beating the easier opponents NewZealand and England. ICC should revisit their Super Eights fixtures, at least in the upcoming multination tournaments.

  • REHANRAYS on October 4, 2012, 5:24 GMT

    "It is the laboratory where international players sharpen their Twenty20 skills. Yet India has failed to reach the final stages of the last three World Twenty20s." - That's the most baffling thing here about both India and South Africa being out. Players from both teams along with the Australians hog the IPL/CLT20 three months of the year and yet they are outdone by Pakistan, a team which hasn't played one home game in years and are not even participate in IPL. I think the reality lies in the fact that while Indian and South Africans players are "sharpening" their skills at IPL spread over 8-9 teams & running after big money, Pakistan keep playing either as a one team or in much smaller leagues to improve quality of their game, eventually leading to much better teamwork and understanding of each other's game. How can you expect Indian players to turn up and do well when for more than 1/4th of the year they are not even playing as India despite they are train to play for themselves only

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