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August 29, 2005
Zimbabwe's utterly shambolic batting display ensured that not only did India get away with a tepid batting display, but they also won by a flattering margin of 161 runs, even getting the bonus point with plenty to spare. The result should help boost the confidence levels of the Indians just a bit, but a hard look at the performance today will reveal that the questions raised by Friday's defeat at the hands of New Zealand have been far from answered. India's opening bowlers were outstanding in that game, and it was the batting which was dismal, and there was little cheer on that front today.
A team is only as good as it is allowed to be, and in the first part of the match, the Indians elevated Zimbabwe to world-class status by refusing to take charge against an honest, but - apart from Heath Streak - completely toothless attack. The same bowling line-up which had been plastered for 397 from 44 overs were made to look the best in the business of choking runs as ball after ball was defended, or worked tentatively for singles. Sample these stats - in the first 20 overs, the Indians played out 89 dot balls, which is very nearly 75% of the total deliveries, and only managed to work 18 singles. Had the Zimbabweans not offered a helping hand by bowling a slew of short balls, hardly the right length on a slow pitch, India's total would have been even worse than the 72 for 2 they managed.
Critics may carp on about technique, but ask any former great, and he'll insist that batting - and indeed most aspects of the game - is all about the mindset. When the New Zealanders batted in their game against Zimbabwe, the intent was obvious from the start, as length balls were smashed around. That might have seemed a touch risky, but the odds were always in their favour - apart from Streak, none of the other Zimbabwean bowlers are equipped to handle batsmen on the rampage, and New Zealand always had others who could have handled the pop-gun attack even if a few wickets had fallen in the process.
Admittedly, the pitch at Harare was hardly as conducive to free-flowing strokeplay, but easily the bigger reason why the Indians doodled at the crease was a complete lack of confidence. They couldn't be blamed either, after the utterly spineless display against Shane Bond at Bulawayo, but it was disappointing to see batsmen who had triumphed against much better opposition a couple of years back put on such a struggle against this Zimbabwean bunch. When the confidence is high and the runs are flowing, everything - the footwork, the shot selection, the hand-eye co-ordination - falls into place almost automatically. The Indians are, Rahul Dravid apart, at the other end of the confidence scale - Sourav Ganguly's dismissal, and Yuvraj Singh's early diffidence, was symptomatic of the malaise - and today's performances by the top order wouldn't have given most of them too much cause for cheer.
Mohammad Kaif managed a painstaking half-century at No. 3, but considering the conditions in Zimbabwe - the ball swung appreciably for the first 15 overs - it would surely make more sense for Dravid to bat at that slot, instead of exposing the likes of Venugopal Rao - who for the second time in consecutive innings fell to an absolute corker - to the new ball. Mahendra Singh Dhoni's blitz at the end, though, should ensure that the experiment of opening with him should come to an immediate end.
Streak, meanwhile, must wonder how long he can continue to play a lone hand. He did that with both ball and bat today - he bowled with outstanding control both at the start and at the death, and was the only one who even looked like he could handle a competent, but surely not unplayable, Indian attack. Irfan Pathan notched his best one-day figures, continuing his fine one-day form, and Ajit Agarkar claimed four, but they'll be the first to admit that these will help prop up their stats, but little else.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?