India's season of discontent has ended, fittingly, with a touch of despair. Something went missing at the start of the season, and India could never quite put it all back together. It took two exceptional innings from Virender Sehwag and one from Mahendra Singh Dhoni to give India a 2-0 lead in this series, but once Pakistan fought back, it immediately became apparent that India just had too many loose spokes to stay upright. Pakistan's comeback was stirring, but as the series went on, it gathered a sense of inevitability. As their opponents recovered from the early mauling and played wholesome cricket, India were found low on gas, depth and energy. In the end, the 159-run defeat in the last match was symbolic of how much the gulf had widened.
Since their memorable win in Lahore last March, India have now lost eight matches to Pakistan out of ten. But no pattern can be detected from this because they were consistently wretched all season. Nine wins in 22 matches is a flattering piece of statistics because five of these came against Kenya, the UAE and Bangladesh, to whom they even managed to lose a match. While India managed to hold their own in the Tests, despite their failure to win the latest series against Pakistan, their decline as a one-day side since reaching the World Cup final has been alarmingly steady. For a while now, India have rotted at the bottom of the pile in the ICC ODI table, and after this performance, even the most one-eyed Indian supporter will struggle to contest their official position at No. 8.
Two matches into this series, the Indians seemed to be turning it around. But even these matches there were vital flaws that wouldn't have escaped the notice of those who bothered to look. In the first match, India fell well short of 300 after Sehwag had taken them to 205 in 35 overs with a 95-ball 108. In the second, where Sehwag and Dhoni helped India to 356 by scoring 222 between them in 163 balls, Pakistan managed to score 298 in 44 overs, and at one stage, when Yousuf Youhana was in the company of Shoaib Malik, Pakistan had a realistic chance of getting closer. In both these matches, despite the comprehensive nature of India's win, their weaknesses were apparent. Their batting belied its reputation, as it had all season, and there was little spring in their bowling and fielding. In the next four matches, these weaknesses were ruthlessly exposed by a determined and thoroughly professional performance by their opponents.
In the third game, the fight went out of India the moment Sehwag was dismissed, but the series turned decisively in the fourth match at Ahmedabad when they failed to defend 315 in 48 overs. Instead of closing in on their opponents, India fell back in the field in the hope that the sheer size of the challenge would eventually be too much. The bowling was flat, the fieldplacings unimaginative: on a turning pitch, the spinners were content to stop the fours instead of searching for wickets and, smug at not conceding boundaries, they leaked singles like a broken tap. Before they got wise, Malik and Adbul Razzaq, who were at the top of the order presumably because they can hit big, ran 49 singles in a run-a-ball partnership of 76 that included just two fours. It was stealth of the highest order, but India were sleeping. From there on, they were only running to catch up.
Without meaning a slight to Dravid, who was magnificently resourceful, India's batsmen found it difficult to find life after Sehwag, whose grand run came to an end at third one-dayer, and their bowlers never found any life. A year ago, Irfan Pathan and Lakshmipathy Balaji rocked and rolled on Pakistan. Now they found no rhythm and no swing. Pathan, perhaps not fully fit, wheeled away without joy, never managing the curl in to the right-handers that made him so deadly just a few months ago, and he finished the series with two sad attempts at slower balls that ended up as beamers. Balaji, who came back from injury to bowl with spirit (though not with the same efficacy as the previous series) in the Tests, struggled to find his line in the one-dayers, and was hit out of sight by Shahid Afridi in the penultimate match.
That neither of them was good enough to be part of the side in the final match told the story of how India's fortunes have turned in 12 months. From here, it's a long road to redemption.
Sambit Bal is editor of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine and Cricinfo in India.