Teams have worked India out - Rajput
India will have to quickly come up with a new Twenty20 gameplan, particularly against the rising ball, to stay in the top bracket of the game's shortest format, Lalchand Rajput, who coached the 2007 cup-winning side, has warned. Rajput said the biggest difference between then and now is that other teams had caught up with India over the last two years, largely due to the experience their players have gained in the two IPL seasons since then.
Rajput described India's knockout from the ICC World Twenty20 on Sunday as "disheartening" and said the two straight defeats against West Indies and England in the Super Eights stage had "hurt a lot" personally. He also said that talk of a rift between Dhoni and an injured Virender Sehwag appeared to have affected the players and added that Sehwag's loss impacted the team's performance.
"Most of the teams have worked out what they need to do against India," Rajput told Cricinfo. "Just look at how West Indies and England worked on their bouncers against India. They did that very well because they knew that some of our players were not comfortable against the bouncing ball. They used that weapon very well, which is difficult to do in this format. So we should give credit to England and West Indies. Most of the foreign players in World Twenty20 have also played two seasons of IPL. So all the other teams have got a hang of Twenty20, and there's better planning in place this time on what should be done and what should not be. India will have to be watchful now and come up with something different."
Talk of a rift within the team did not help matters either, Rajput said. "Such issues play a bit of a role in the minds of the players," he said. "This time, to start with, there was talk of a rift between Viru [Sehwag] and Dhoni. Then the team got together to show their strength in front of the media. The media also had a role to play. These things were also causes for the team's performance."
Dhoni had lined up the entire team before the Indian media during a pre-tournament press conference following reports over a rift between the captain and his opening batsman. The reports suggested the captain was upset with Sehwag for not revealing the extent of his shoulder injury that finally ruled him out of the tournament - Dhoni has repeatedly denied this.
Sehwag's absence was a huge blow, Rajput said. "Sehwag's absence was definitely felt because he is a match-winner," he said. "He is a destroyer of bowling attacks. Once he gets going, the bowling looks so easy, and he puts so much pressure on the opposite team. His absence must have hurt the team."
Rajput, however, dismissed suggestions that mental fatigue and pressure might have contributed to the team's dismal performance. Gary Kirsten, the team's coach, and Dilip Vengsarkar, the former chief selector, had admitted last month that they were concerned about "mental fatigue" and "overkill" as the team had been on the road since February 20 when they left for the New Zealand tour followed by the IPL. "There will always be pressure, especially during a big event like the World Cup," Rajput said. "This time the expectations were very high. But we should not forget that the other teams have also come up very well. The fatigue factor has been the same for all teams because most of their players played in the IPL, except for the Australians."
Asked about Sunday's loss, India's second straight defeat in the Super Eights, Rajput said that not playing Yuvraj Singh at No. 4 was a mistake, especially after he had scored 67 off 43 balls in that position against West Indies on Friday.
"Decisions are analysed only after the team has done badly," he said. "But I would have preferred Yuvraj coming in at No. 4. That would have made a difference because he was in really good nick in the last game [against West Indies]. Of course, this is all in hindsight. But Ravindra Jadeja took a number of balls [25 off 35 balls] against England while Yuvraj could have done better and got going by then."
According to Rajput, the first step for India now is to beat South Africa, which has been the best team in the tournament so far. "The loss is past, and the team has to think about the present," Rajput said. "The team now has to focus on beating South Africa and salvage their pride. Remember, that we beat South Africa in the second stage of the 2007 World Cup. When you are out of a tournament, the body language goes down because they know that they can't qualify for the semi-finals. So this is the time they have to raise their body language, and start believing that they can beat the best team in the tournament, which is South Africa."
Rajput was India's coach for nearly a year from the England tour of 2007 till the Australia tour that ended with the VB series win in early 2008. He bridged the gap after the controversial exit of Greg Chappell in April 2007 and the arrival of Gary Kirsten in March 2008. India's Twenty20 World Cup win was the team's biggest achievement in that period when they travelled to South Africa, the venue, as rank outsiders without the burden of expectations.
Rajput said it was "different this time" but he still couldn't accept the fact that the defending champions had been knocked out so early. "It is a very disheartening experience," he said. "I can't take it because we won the title last time and I was looking forward to the team defending that title. What hurt me was the way we went out. I expected the team to qualify for the semi-finals at least. Going out in the Super Eights stage itself has hurt a lot. India didn't deserve to be out of the tournament because they were the favourites to win it."
Ajay Shankar is a deputy editor at Cricinfo