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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ziyada on September 28, 2009, 19:04 GMT

    Well , Pakistan stick to the task and played simple yet effective cricket and so there was no answer.The amount of talent Pakistan generates with the population of 16 crore is credible and unlike our neigbouring country with the population of 100000000 crore but just dont have any reputable genunine fast bowler.The amount of cricket pllayed in india is very huge but the reputable fast bowlers are not there.IF ASHISH NEHRA and Ishant shamrma is your weapon then dhoni need miracles from SACHIN the great to perfrom:) and take all responsibilty

  • Hassan.Farooqi on September 28, 2009, 12:36 GMT

    It is pathetic that while Pakistan fans praised Yousuf, the Indians failed to praise Dravid. They both played the same type of innings. While Pakistan never mentioned they missed Shoaib, Asif, and Razzaq, Indians were whining about the loss of their three players.

    Maybe that is the problem with India. They rely too much on their star players and forget that cricket is a team game.

  • LeoSaqib on September 28, 2009, 6:26 GMT

    I am Pakistani and I know my Indians friends are hurt badly but I think there is no need to be panicked. India is definitely great team but badly marred by the absence of too many good players. Let me remind you V.Sehwag who made mockery of best bowlers ,including likes of S.Akhtar,many times.If they would Z.Khan and Irfan Pathan,situation could have been intirely different, Virat Kohli may be a talented young gun but he is hardly replacement for maverick like Youraj. These absentees are sorely missed and might cost India early exit from Champions Trophy,but every team faces this kind of lows and should rise strongly again, hopefully in near future.Best of luck to India against Aussies.Hope to meet them again in finals and expecting another nerve wrecking show down between arch rivals.

  • zjav on September 28, 2009, 5:54 GMT

    India should have gone for the kill once Younis was dismissed, instead Dhoni brought his part time bowlers (example of defensive strategy). Shoaib Malik was getting runs on the cut shot and Dhoni has not placed a fielder to stop boundaries. Nehra pointed out this and placed a fielder on deep point to prevent boundaries on his bowling. I think Dhoni should have sent Raina at Kohli's place. Dhoni should set a proper batting order. All in all Dhoni was not organised or might have forgot his planning.

  • avilanchee on September 28, 2009, 5:12 GMT

    I felt three batsmen short Mr Dhoni . And wat a funny shot to get out . Appreciate that. I advise u to grow u r hair long again :P.

  • knowledge_eater on September 28, 2009, 3:07 GMT

    Every Team try to find, especially Captains try to find "ohh i should have done this, i should have done that" but bottom line is sometimes you can't control everything. Thats why there no team in the world, especially no ODI team should be called number 1 or number 2 or what ever.... as long as you perform better and do least mistakes on a day as a TEAM (the word team is very imp.) you can beat any kind of team. As a saying in one of the indian traditional fastival called" Dashera", which is today (ironically). The saying states that "the horse didn't run on day of Dashera". That means it was the day to perform and as a team indians didn't perform. Look at the England and now Newzeland's comeback. They perform on their day, it doesn't matter how dangerous the SA and Srilanka look on paper. Just learn from mistakes, stop pointing fingers here and there. You perform as a team. Period.

  • jeet19800 on September 28, 2009, 2:42 GMT

    Coming back to y'day match, its time we should try Amit mishra, Manoj tiwari, Pragyan Ojha,LR shukla n other new talents, at least once in a while. i think Mishra & ojha both are better bowlers than what harbhajan was when he was 10-20 matches old. Its also time to understand that "Looking back" to Tendulakar or Dravid might work as a temporary option to sustain but its not really evolutionary. How about, taking "Seriously-fast" bowling seriously? Whatever is happening at MRF pace academy and all? With the kind of bowling talent we have, we need a reserve of 7-8 pacers and 4-5 spinners to choose from in every cup and series. Let the bowlers in peak form play, and pray for a decent international class performance from them. Its time to Go further ahead with our cricket, its management, its innovation & professionalism. Jai Ho!!

  • jeet19800 on September 28, 2009, 2:40 GMT

    The issue is to expect this team, these thought-processes, this management, to win world cups for us consistently. We are doomed by making of Gods out of these talented but normal players by International standards. We are a reasonably good team, and so we get reasonably good results. To leap in to the league of - Australian team of its peak or Pakistan at its explosive best under Imran Khan or West-indies of great old times, we need to go ahead in terms of our cricketing management and processes. We did that few years back and results are there for everyone to see. We came in to top-3 teams group from top-5. we are now winning matches abroad and topping few ICC rankings.

  • jeet19800 on September 28, 2009, 2:34 GMT

    England has beaten SA, NZ has beaten SL and Pakistan has beaten India. Noone would have put in his money on these results before the starting of Champions trophy. As usual we are ready to be cynical about the defeat. But we need to hold on for a day more, as we also dont stand a very good chance against Australia and that would mean Ba-bye for us. So am i heart-broken with Team's preformance being an indian. NOT really. If you look at the results and team's performance realistically. We are doing as good as this team is capable of doing given the circumstances. A RP singh is not exactly a Waqar Yunis, and Ishant can never be an Imran Khan and harbhajan is not and will never be in the league of Murali or Warne. The Dravid and Tendulakr of Yore is still playing like the way they have been playing for almost 2 decades. MS Dhoni is arguably the best guy we can have on the helm and Raina, pathan & Kohli is no doubt talented. Continue..

  • sobank on September 27, 2009, 23:39 GMT

    Consider that at around 30th over in indian innings, dew factor kicked in. Afridi couldn't even grip the ball and constantly complaining on his walk back to start after the delivery. So no spin or movement from the ball and India was at 203/4 on 34. All they had to do is get another 100 out of 15 overs when the ball is not moving and coming to bat. They did not. Three of their good batsmen got out. In a time when 300 is a normal thing in a match, perhaps indian bowlers did the job and it were the indian batsmen who did not perform.

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