It was such a crying shame that the rain robbed India of a great chance to win the ICC Champions Trophy. With the rub of the green on their side, I am certain that the Indians, who had put on a string of commanding performances with the bat and ball during the course of the tournament, had a good chance of emerging victorious if either the final or the replay had gone the full distance.
That said we must remember that we did not get to see the Sri Lankan spinners in action against the Indian batsmen. Muralitharan and his mates would have certainly relished bowling on a pitch that was getting increasingly slower and lower and posed quite a few challenges for the Indian willow-wielders.
I felt the pitches that had been laid out for the semi-final against Australia and for the final were nowhere near ideal for one-day cricket. Spinners do not need such dust bowls to be champions. With a capacity crowd watching the game, a true wicket was what was required as this would have helped both the batsmen and the bowlers and made the game an engaging spectacle.
I thought the Indian bowlers bowled well in restricting Sri Lankan batsmen to a score below 250 in both the matches. Zaheer Khan, who was the standout bowler as far as India were concerned, bowled a couple of great opening spells and his dramatic first-ball dismissal of Jayasuriya on Monday was one of the moments of the final. The left-arm quick has turned out to be a revelation and the way he performed was indeed most heartening.
Javagal Srinath being rushed in from England to partner Zaheer in the final was meanwhile an unnecessary step. It was never going to be easy for him to fly into a hot and humid Colombo and get acclimatised for the final in the space of a few hours. I thought that the Indians would have been much better off playing Anil Kumble instead. True, the team management admitted their error and brought in the experienced leggie for the second game but then again how many times does a team get a second chance?
Though Srinath has stated that he wants to play one-dayers until the end of the World Cup next year, I think the the experienced bowler now has to prove that he can compete with the young fast bowlers in the country. It certainly will be a difficult situation for the selectors when Nehra becomes fit to play again.
As for the spinners, both Kumble and Harbhajan bowled well in the finals. It was heartening to see Harbhajan giving the ball a lot more air and trying to turn the ball. This is something he has to do consistently on any type of pitch. Harbhajan is undeniably our main strike bowler, and I am sure by the time the West Indian team leaves India, he would have picked a bagful of wickets.
Another man who bowled impressively was Virender Sehwag. His disciplined bowling and explosive batting made him the player of the tournament.
I must say that it was certainly a remarkable performance by the Indian team, who it must be remembered confirmed participation only after a last-minute resolution of the contracts row. It was encouraging to see the likes of Sehwag, Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh delivering under pressure. This shall now help the experienced players like Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid to play with much more freedom.
Probably, the only area of concern now is the wicket-keeper's slot. Rahul is doing an okay job, but he has been making a few mistakes that might turn out to be crucial and effectively ruin India's chances in the World Cup. In my opinion, India with its strong batting line-up does not really need seven batsmen to do a job that six wouldn't do. The best solution might be to try out a specialist wicket-keeper by dropping both Dinesh Mongia and VVS Laxman.
Ganguly and coach John Wright should also focus on the fielding. Even the spectacular efforts of youngsters like Yuvraj and Kaif cannot gloss over the fact that we remain a poor fielding side. The team certainly cannot afford to drop sitters like those dropped by Sachin Tendulkar on Sunday. This might have a lot to with a sense of overconfidence creeping in after a string of great performances.
To nip this bad habit in the bud, the current team only needs to go back to the Indian teams that had won the World Cup in 1983 and the Benson & Hedges World Championship in 1985. Both of them had to pay a heavy price for turning over-confident as the drubbing at the hands of the West Indies at home in '83 and the unsuccessful World Cup '87 campaign testify.
All said, let me congratulate them once again for their success in England and now in Sri Lanka. They now are the favourites to demolish a West Indian team sans Lara. And as far as one-day cricket goes, they are not anymore the under-dogs but front-runners for winning the World Cup in 2003.