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'We cannot lose so many finals' - Ganguly

The first step to solving a problem is often to admit that it's there in the first place. And Sourav Ganguly did that after the Asia Cup final when he admitted that India's performances in grand finals bordered on the unacceptable. "I don't know what it is, but we're not doing something right," he said. "We cannot lose so many finals."

As the fireworks sparkled over the Premadasa and Sri Lankan flags were waved joyously to the accompaniment of blaring klaxons, Ganguly cut a disconsolate figure in front of the media posse. But to his credit, there was no fumbling for excuses, the coward's way out. "We didn't play to our potential right through the tournament," he said, alluding to two losses against the hosts and a drubbing at Pakistan's hands. "Breaks are a part of international cricket, and we have to make sure that we pick up quickly when we come back from one," he added, when asked whether a long lay-off had left the team ill-equipped to meet the Asia Cup challenge.

Once again, the much-heralded batting misfired horribly when it mattered most, albeit on a pitch where batting had become a lottery by the end. "We didn't get partnerships going," said Ganguly. "We needed someone to stay with Sachin [Tendulkar] and bat with him. We didn't rotate the strike well either. Even on a pitch where the ball was stopping and turning, 228 was always gettable, and we could have put up a better show."

He stressed that it had been a good toss to win for the Sri Lankans, but was also full of praise for his bowlers who kept them down to 228. "On pitches like this, you need them to do well. The main spinners on both sides [Muttiah Muralitharan and Harbhajan Singh] went for a few, but the part-timers [Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Upul Chandana and Sanath Jayasuriya] did really well. But we didn't expect the pitch to be so difficult."

When asked to compare the mediocre displays in this tournament with the efforts of the previous season, he said, "We weren't as intense on the field, though the boys were committed enough off it. We have to get the thought process right. No matter how much talent you have, it's no use if the thinking isn't right."

For Ganguly, it was a ninth loss - against a solitary win - in 13 finals under his stewardship, and he accepted that falling short yet again was a devastating blow. "We were expecting to win this tournament, so the way we played here is a real eye-opener. But this is a good side. We've played well all around the world for two years now. I wouldn't call it a setback; it's more a jolt to get us back to where we were."

He was candid enough to admit that there were few positives to take out of Colombo. "Maybe the return of Harbhajan," he said after some thought. "I thought he came back very well after six months out of international cricket."

The nature of the drubbing here should provoke some serious soul-searching within the team. Since the World Cup, where they lost only to Australia, India have won 16 and lost 15 of their 33 matches. Claims of being second-best behind Australia are looking increasingly laughable as Sri Lanka, England and New Zealand - not to mention a Pakistan team in Bob Woolmer's capable hands - make rapid strides.

Worryingly, India have lost heavily both on fast pitches in Australia, and slow turners in the subcontinent. And there are some in the side who are still dining out on former glories. As Marvan Atapattu said after the game, the great teams know how to make the good times last. This Indian team, for all its potential, isn't quite there yet, and with the most challenging season in living memory having just begun, they can thank Sri Lanka for the rudest of wake-up calls.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.