The real culprits

While India's players blame their recent poor form on everything from a manipulative coach to a sense of insecurity to an indifferent captain, the plain truth is this: When it really mattered, India's batsmen failed to deliver. It's a fact that has been obscured by emotion, hype and selective memory but a reading of the statistics is revealing.

First, India's overall ODI record under Greg Chappell:

Played 62, won 32, lost 27. It's a fair record - more victories than defeats, a win-loss ratio (1.18) which is better than that achieved by West Indies (1), Pakistan (0.94) and England (0.65), and only marginally behind Sri Lanka (1.22).

Scratch the surface, though, and some disturbing trends emerge: India won 19 out of 28 matches at home - mostly in comfortable batting conditions - but only 13 out of 34 when they travelled overseas. The win-loss ratio of 0.68 is comfortably lower than Pakistan's and England's, and only marginally better than West Indies' 0.57.

That Indian batsmen flourish on the flat tracks of home is well documented, but the star-studded line-up had briefly demonstrated an ability to perform in more demanding conditions as well. That has all but disappeared in the last 21 months - the big names have appeared far too vulnerable to the merest hint of seam, swing or even spin.

The analysis below brings out how the runs scored by the Indian batsmen during this period has been a function of the conditions and the strength of the opposition, not of their own form, which comes and goes depending on the might of the bowlers.

For the purpose of the analysis, all the ODIs played by India during this period have been divided into two categories - the first comprises matches that were played in relatively batting-friendly conditions; and the second includes the games in which the bowlers had more say. The first category includes the following: all ODIs played in India except the Champions Trophy and the four ODIs versus South Africa in 2005-06, plus India's five-match series in Pakistan in the same season, and their World Cup game against Bermuda. These were games in which the bowling attack or the conditions or both allowed the bat to dominate. Not surprisingly, all the Indian batsmen except a couple have excellent records, with Mahendra Singh Dhoni's numbers reaching Bradmanesque proportions.

The story is entirely different, though, when the batsmen have been tested a little more. The next table includes matches which have been a bigger test for batsmen - the Videocon Cup in Zimbabwe, all matches in Sri Lanka, the DLF Cup in Malaysia, and the ODIs in South Africa in West Indies.

The batsman who was the most successful in these tougher games didn't even make it to the World Cup. Mohammad Kaif made unbeaten knocks of 102 and 93 against New Zealand in the Videocon Cup and was consistently among the runs in the West Indies in 2006, but a few failures thereafter pushed him out of the side. Apart from him and Yuvraj, none of the others averages even 30 in these games.

The differences in batting averages between the two tables shows just how much the batsmen have been found wanting when the team's needed someone to put his hand up. Dhoni's average drops by a whopping 73 runs, while even Dravid's and Tendulkar's performances have dropped by 50%.

All these numbers are of course masked when you merely look at the overall figures during this period: Dravid averages 39.82 in these 21 months, Tendulkar 40.16, Dhoni 46.13. They look like healthy numbers - and they are - till you delve deeper.

Tendulkar's overall stats look impressive, but check out his recent performances against the two best sides - apart from the 55 against South Africa at Centurion, he hasn't managed a single half-century in 11 innings. The best players always like to measure themselves against the strongest opposition, and in Tendulkar's case the recent numbers don't stack up well at all.

Through most of India's recent ODI travails, it's the less-heralded bowlers who have done well - only twice during this period have they conceded more than 300, while the average runs per over conceded is only 4.93. Twenty times they've restricted the opposition to less than five per over, but India have only managed to win 50% of those games.

The batsmen have always been the ones who've been feted after most of India's ODI triumphs. It's time they took the bulk of the blame for the losses too.