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The Indian failure at the final hurdle

The Indian innings at Kingsmead resembled a pre-climax scene from a bad B-movie, where the villain has a noose around the neck of the heroine standing on an ice block. Most of the Indian batsmen appeared to having nooses around their necks, and they only succeeded in pulling it tighter, resulting in their dismissals. The only difference was that they could not conjure up a hero to save the team from a debacle. South African captain Shaun Pollock was clearly intent on playing on the psyche of the Indian batsmen by inserting the tourists on the day when it mattered most.

What really made a telling impact was the inability of the Indian middle-order to play shots off the back foot. The pitch at Kingsmead does have a lot of carry and bounce, but the shot selection on display was poor by any standards.

The Indians somehow got into all sorts of tangles by adopting some strange tactics. The skipper perished in trying to up the run-rate by playing, against his opposite number, a shot that had worked well for him in the series. His dismissal meant that the Indians were pegged down in the first fifteen overs, from which they never really recovered. The only positive aspect of the Indian innings was the way in which Virender Sehwag batted, though his mode of exit was disappointing.

The move to make Rahul Dravid keep wickets opened up a slot for an additional bowler, but the Indians stuck to their regular formula of four bowlers. Dravid shouldered the additional responsibility without any fuss, but it is not a long-term solution. He tried his best to take the Indian score to respectability; in the end, though, it was not worth the effort, as the South Africans overhauled the Indian total without any problems. But for the mini-partnerships that Dravid built with Sehwag and Reetinder Singh Sodhi, the final would have been an embarrassment for the visitors.

What really made a telling impact was the inability of the Indian middle-order to play shots off the back foot. The pitch at Kingsmead does have a lot of carry and bounce, but the shot selection on display was poor by any standards. Nantie Hayward worked up good pace consistently, and he will be a force to reckon with in the Test series. A team that had seven batsmen in its ranks was unable to put up a total to even make a contest out of it. The Indians, in fact, gave the impression that they got things wrong in terms of the total they planned to set; a total of 220-230 would have been very competitive, given the conditions, but it seemed that the visitors were looking at 250-plus , which might have caused the top order to play rash shots.

Yet another final was lost simply because the Indians as a collective unit do not believe in their ability; Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly always have to click with the bat if the Indians are to even nurture hopes of winning. Even they, however, can succumb under pressure when it matters most, in spite of all their achievements in international cricket over the years. The Indian victories against Kenya notwithstanding, the limitations of the make-up of the team were always under the microscope.

Looking at a broader perspective, any side that struggles for the 10 crucial overs, in both departments of the game, is bound to struggle in a pressure-cooker situation. That is the problem with the Indians, since they are a bowler short and the middle-order batsmen do not make the most of the last 10 overs, the most vital phase of the innings. The idea of completing a fifth bowler's quota with Yuvraj Singh and Tendulkar is just wishful thinking, and it will be difficult on pitches where the bounce is even and true.

It is all history now, however, and one can only hope that the Indians get their thinking sorted out during the forthcoming Test series. It goes without saying that the Tests will be much more demanding, and only the tougher side will eventually prevail.