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India v West Indies, 15th match, Champions Trophy

Cosy in their comfort zones

The Verdict by Dileep Premachandran at Ahmedabad

October 26, 2006

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'What does it say of a man that he keeps getting out the same way time after time?' © Getty Images
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On the eve of this game, one of India's many TV channels broke a story about Greg Chappell having harsh words for his wards before a practice session. In a country where analysis of sport on TV remains laughably slapstick, such things make news - a coach actually having a go at his players? Perish the thought! But after this shambles of a performance, some of those players should be profoundly grateful that they don't play for an Alex Ferguson or a Vince Lombardi. If that had been the case, cups and saucers or boots would surely have been thrown around the dressing room, with one or two repeat offenders banished into the frozen tundra forever.

The litany of woe started right at the top with Virender Sehwag. What does it say of a man when he plays in the same team as two of the greatest batsmen of all time - and coached by another - that he keeps getting out the same way time after time? Does it show an unwillingness to learn, a man so deeply entrenched in a comfort zone that he can't even make the effort? Or is he another Jerry Lee Lewis, who once proclaimed: "If I'm going to hell, I'm going there playing the piano", the difference being that Sehwag doesn't seem to be able to manage more than a few notes before the curtain rushes down.

The cameo is something that comes naturally to Suresh Raina as well these days. If he wasn't making a run, you could just write it off as bad form, or bad luck. But when a batsman manages to get a start, and then throws it away in a variety of ways, it reveals a deeper malaise. The way he's being utilised also needs to be looked at carefully. If the contention is that Raina offers a greater matchwinning option than Mohammad Kaif, who had three 50s in his last 10 outings, then he should be batting at No.3 where he has the time to construct an innings.

With teams having exercised caution during the Power Plays thanks to the prevalent conditions in this tournament, Irfan Pathan's big-hitting capabilities would surely have been more useful lower down the order. In conditions that cried out for attritional disciplined cricket, batsman after batsman chose the Bollywood option. But for Rahul Dravid's splendid 49, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni's wonderfully restrained 51, it was an abysmal showing, one that would have had Brett Lee and friends licking their lips up country. Later in the day, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Runako Morton showed how it should be done, with beautifully paced innings that made easy work of a challenging target before the inexplicable wobble at the finish.

With the exception of the dogged Munaf Patel, India's bowling with the new ball was just as woeful. Pathan got some swing, but offered up a four-ball every so often, while Rudra Pratap Singh's shoddy display merely made the selectors look foolish for having left out S Sreesanth. An atrocious bit of fielding on the rope, and two tennis-ball bouncers that Chanderpaul pulled contemptuously for four summed up his evening.

Both Pathan and RP Singh could have learnt so much from Ian Bradshaw and Dwayne Smith, who recognise their own limitations and the state of the pitch far better than most. Bradshaw is one of one-day cricket's invisible stars, a man who almost guarantees you two or three wickets in the course of a miserly spell. As for Smith, he slips easily into the sort of role that Gavin Larsen once performed with such distinction for New Zealand.

And then there was Jerome Taylor, long-limbed and languid in the best tradition of West Indian quicks. His sterling display, both with the new ball and later in the innings, was proof if any was needed that there's always a place for genuine pace. On paper, it may not be the most lethal attack in the world, but the way Brian Lara, and Sarwan against Australia, shuffle the pack around has been an object lesson for many.

India's foibles extended to the field as well, with Raina's drop of Chris Gayle proving extremely costly at the start. A batsman of the calibre of VVS Laxman has been excluded on the grounds that his fielding isn't up to scratch, but when those that replace him aren't worth more than 15 or 20 runs with the bat, it makes you wonder about the wisdom of sidelining a man who has one-day hundreds against Australia and Pakistan.

Harbhajan Singh's continued excellence with the ball made defeat appear respectable, but in reality it was anything but. Having got their bad game out of the way in an inconsequential tie against Sri Lanka, West Indies are looking ominously good in defence of their title, while India look every inch a side that misplaced their self-belief sometime during the off season. The chances of rediscovering it on a bouncy Mohali pitch against Australia must be rated very slim indeed.

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Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo

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Dileep Premachandran Associate editor Dileep Premachandran gave up the joys of studying thermodynamics and strength of materials with a view to following in the footsteps of his literary heroes. Instead, he wound up at the Free Press Journal in Mumbai, writing on sport and politics before Gentleman gave him a column called Replay. A move to MyIndia.com followed, where he teamed up with Sambit Bal, and he arrived at ESPNCricinfo after having also worked for Cricket Talk and total-cricket.com. Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell were his early cricketing heroes, though attempts to emulate their silken touch had hideous results. He considers himself obscenely fortunate to have watched live the two greatest comebacks in sporting history - India against invincible Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001, and Liverpool's inc-RED-ible resurrection in the 2005 Champions' League final. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, who remains astonishingly tolerant of his sporting obsessions.
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