India fail to adapt

Shane Watson was in blistering form AFP

Take a glance at the scorecard, without looking at the venue, for the Super Eights game between India and Australia and you might say it was played anywhere but on the subcontinent.

India's batsmen struggling against pace and bounce, losing all their wickets to Australia's quicks. India's three specialist spinners being thrashed by the power duo of Shane Watson and David Warner. Then you notice the venue, the Premadasa Stadium. Three specialist spinners taking a combined 0 for 66 in 6.5 overs in Colombo? How did that happen?

Through a mix of Watson and Warner being Watson and Warner, poor Indian bowling made atrocious by rain, and some questionable decisions from MS Dhoni - leaving out Virender Sehwag not being one of them.

Given the way Watson and Warner batted, it might not have made much difference had India bowled better or had Dhoni taken better calls. But they would have given themselves a chance, and if it hadn't worked, there would have been no shame in losing to probably the most destructive pairing currently in limited-overs cricket.

Dhoni had watched Pakistan's and South Africa's spinners take turns in choking each other's batsmen on the same pitch earlier during the evening. Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla and Irfan Pathan had dismissed England for 80 on the same ground on Sunday. Dhoni had no choice but to keep Sehwag out. The logic going into the game was overwhelmingly in favour of playing the extra spinner.

But Dhoni erred by giving Ashwin as many as three successive overs at the start and holding back Irfan till the 10th over. Before England began to capitulate to spin, it was Irfan who had struck in consecutive overs at the start. If Irfan is in the side, he has to get the new ball, unless someone else who opens the bowling strikes immediately. Irfan becomes easier to hit as the innings progresses, and by the time he came on, Australia had charged to 81 in nine overs. He didn't help by bowling short of good length at his gentle pace, and was taken for 19 in six balls. That was to be the only over he would get.

Dhoni said he wanted early wickets, so had opened with Ashwin and Zaheer Khan. "If you see Zak has been bowling well for us and his record against both the openers has been really good," Dhoni said. "So we thought of bowling Ashwin from one end and Zaheer from the other end. The Australian openers are the ones who have been scoring most of the runs for them so it was important that we get an early breakthrough. There were close calls but it didn't go our way but that was one of the main reasons why we decided Zaheer should open from one end and Ashwin from the other."

Ashwin's opening over, interrupted by the short rain break, included consecutive fours by Warner. It had already been drizzling for some overs towards the end of Australia's innings. Dhoni spoke later of how the wet ball had rendered his spinners ineffective. Given the evidence of Ashwin's opening over, Dhoni could have gone for Irfan, but he gave Ashwin a third over, which went for 16 after Watson pulled a couple of long hops for sixes. That India had an issue with the ball was clear when Ashwin was seen wiping it with a towel.

Still, Dhoni bowled Harbhajan and Piyush Chawla before Irfan. Chawla started with a long hop and a half-volley and was carted for 14 in his opening over. Harbhajan tried flighting the ball in his second over. By then, Australia were on top. Warner slog-swept Harbhajan for consecutive sixes.

And India's spinners just fell apart. It does not help that, for a legspinner, Chawla has little heart. It did not help that Ashwin's reaction to being hit was to bowl an overdose of carom balls. Harbhajan is making a comeback after a year outside the side. It seems he is making an extra effort to flight the ball, something the man who replaced him, Ashwin, usually does, and something he has been accused of not doing much.

The result was that in a game in which he said he made one of his toughest calls to be able to play five bowlers, Dhoni ended up having his part-timers bowl four overs by the time Australia reached the target in the 15th.