India v Australia, 18th match, Champions Trophy October 29, 2006

When the bowlers left their brains behind



'The short-pitch virus afflicted S Sreesanth as well, and his second spell was emblematic of an infuriatingly inconsistent display' © AFP

This rout summed up India's season so far. For most of it, the bowlers have acquitted themselves with credit while the batsmen have been clueless. Today, when the batsmen played smart cricket, the pace bowlers had a collective brain failure. Having strained every sinew to post 249 against the most formidable attack in the world, India gave it away within the space of 14 appalling overs that cost a whopping 101.

There have been many voices in the recent past calling for India to appoint a bowling coach. But there's not much that a Troy Cooley or a Dennis Lillee clone can do if the bowlers refuse to engage their brain cells. Shane Watson plays his domestic cricket at the Gabba and Adam Gilchrist at the WACA, both surfaces renowned for their bounce, and India's new-ball bowlers decided to test them with the short ball. The results were predictably disastrous.

There's nothing wrong with the odd bouncer if you bowl at Brett Lee or Makhaya Ntini's pace. But when you're kissing the deck at just over 80mph, you may as well run in with a placard that says: Hit me. On the very few occasions that Munaf Patel and Irfan Pathan actually pitched it up, the batsmen were in trouble. It made you wonder what they had been watching from the dressing-room in the afternoon, when the incomparable Glenn McGrath bowled six overs with the new ball for 12 runs and the wicket of Sachin Tendulkar.

The short-pitch virus afflicted S Sreesanth as well, and his second spell was emblematic of an infuriatingly inconsistent display. First he got hammered for four after dropping short to Ricky Ponting, merely the best player of the pull shot on the planet. Then he adjusted his length and beat him with a beauty that left the bat. The next one was even better, taking the outside edge on its way to slip. Sadly for India, the entire sequence could have been written around the words 'bolted', 'horse' and 'stable'.



Shane Watson plays his domestic cricket at the Gabba and bowling short to him is a no-brainer © AFP

It was all the more disappointing to watch because the batsmen had done a sterling job on a pitch where strokeplay was never easy. Virender Sehwag set the tone with an innings that owed as much to luck - a dropped catch, and an inside edge that flew past the stumps, not to mention numerous statuesque swishes - as it did to swashbuckling drives through the off side.

It didn't help that he had to do it all on his own early on, with Tendulkar appearing incredibly out of sorts. Once a pillager of Australian attacks, his recent woes against them are perhaps indicative of slowing reflexes. He was never comfortable, wearing one on the helmet from Nathan Bracken's medium pace, and his exit for 10 took his aggregate from the last six outings against Australia to 66 runs. When you consider that he had a century, four 50s and a 45 in the six innings prior to that, it's easy to see why some critics speak of a decline against quality pace bowling.

It was left to Rahul Dravid to show the way instead, and he took a ball less than Sehwag for his half-century, despite never once chancing his arm. Mohammad Kaif played his part in a valuable 60-run partnership, and there were vital late interventions from Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Irfan Pathan. Those who considered it 30 runs short could probably argue that sending Pathan ahead of Raina could have made the difference, but there is no discounting the quality of the bowling. Brett Lee was carted around in his first two spells, but his third was fast bowling at its finest - fast, accurate and with more than a hint of movement.

In the final analysis, the rawness of India's pace resources was their undoing. Between them, Pathan, Munaf and Sreesanth can point to 99 ODI caps, while Lee alone has 140 stashed away. In this kind of match, with everything at stake, that chasm was far too wide to bridge.

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Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo

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