Ind v Pak, Champions Trophy, Group A, Centurion September 26, 2009

We were three bowlers short - Dhoni

The real reasons India's defeat was that the bowlers leaked too many singles in the middle overs

It couldn't go on for ever, India's freakish dominance over Pakistan in world events, and it was no disgrace in losing to a team that was better on the day. But the match was closer than the scoreline suggests and while it would be tempting to lay the blame on the three mindless moments while India were batting, the real story was elsewhere.

But let's get the sub-plot out of the way. Gautam Gambhir batted out of his skin and gave it away. Was he too pumped up for his own good? Did the Pakistanis get to him? When the bat was doing all the talk, what insanity to start gesticulating wildly with the handle? And what was he doing charging down the wicket for what would have, at best, been a high-risk single when fours and sixes seemed the natural order? And pray, why didn't he put in a dive?

Brain freeze two: In plain disregard of common sense, Virat Kohli, the young man who some consider the future of Indian batting, decides to take on Shahid Afridi and the man on the long-off boundary and lofts the ball straight to him. India were then 126 for 2 off 21.2 overs.

The final act. Rahul Dravid, the last man standing, eases the ball to deep cover and completes a comfortable two. Harbhajan Singh now wants a third. Then he doesn't. Now Dravid wants it. Harbhajan is now persuaded. But no, the ball is on its way now. Dravid turns back, but it's too late, and worse he seems to have pulled something while stretching and he crumples to the ground as the Pakistanis gather a few feet away from him to celebrate. A fan runs on to the field with the Pakistani flag. Soon they would be swamping the ground.

India lost by 54 runs. But 31 balls were still to be bowled. MS Dhoni put India's failed chase down to the loss of too many wickets. It was in stark contrast to Pakistan's calculated, controlled, polished and smooth building of a monumental score.

But it was also true that India let them. Imran Nazir and Karman Akmal had started sensationally. But they were gone by the ninth over, and between the eighth and 13th over, only six runs were scored. But once Mohammad Yousuf arrived, and India were obliged bring on their part-timers and the field spread, runs were impossible to stop.

At the press conference, Dhoni started by holding the batsmen, including himself, responsible for the defeat. But the questions about the bowlers persisted, and once Dhoni started on the subject, he was damning and he held little back.

"Between the 30th and the 42nd over, we gave away nearly 100 runs. That's too many runs when the field is spread. That was tough. I have never seen so many runs scored backward of point. As a captain you can only set the field, you can't bowl yourself. I think the Pakistan bowlers exploited the conditions really well. The spinners, the fast bowlers, they bowled in the areas where they had fielders.

"Losing the toss was a blessing in disguise. Because when we bowled up, it was tough for them and they played a few shots in the air. But we were quite consistent in bowling short."

Dhoni started by holding the batsmen, including himself, responsible for the defeat. But the questions about the bowlers persisted, and once Dhoni started on the subject, he was damning and he held little back

Dhoni admitted his bowlers had been fooled into bowling short by the practice wickets in Johannesburg, where the balls rose sharply. "The conditions were different here, and we should have adapted. It's about adaptability and you have to be smart at the international level."

But did he miss a fifth bowler? "At times I felt I was three bowlers short," he shot back. There were times, he said, he didn't know who go to or what fields to set. "Wherever I put a fielder, the ball went elsewhere."

There was only one period, between the eighth and 13th over, when Ashish Nehra and Ishant Shrama bowled the line and length the pitch demanded. But in the end only Nehra emerged with credit, and four wickets for his efforts.

RP Singh started by bowling too full and was driven for two fours, which prompted him to bowl too short and be hit for two more. Ishant's first ball strayed on Younis Khan's pads and the fourth was short and wide. On his return spell, he bowled three crass long hops outside the off stump, all of which were gratefully converted to fours by Shoaib Malik.

And Harbhajan - he had a shocker - straying both in line and length, and was deftly and mercilessly toyed around by two batsmen who were not afraid to play against the turn. But even Malik was puzzled that he wasn't brought in earlier.

Pakistan were 65 for 3 when the Powerplays ended, and instead of going for the kill, Dhoni chose to bring in his part-timers, including Virat Kohli, and allowed Malik, who couldn't get even a single away, to then settle down, and Yousuf to get going right from the start. When Harbhajan was finally introduced, in the 26th over, Pakistan had reached 108.

Dhoni had his reasons for holding back his premier bowler. "When you bowl Harbhajan with a part-timer, the batsmen look to score from the other end and play out Harbhajan. We wanted to force the batsmen to play shots against him."

Would he have needed to do that if he had another bowling option?

India are not out of the tournament yet. But they have only a day to gather their wits and reassess their options. The No.1 rank at the ICC table flatters them at the moment. Their immediate task is to avoid slipping to No.5 or less in this tournament.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

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