'What does it say of a man that he keeps getting out
the same way time after time?'
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On the eve of this game, one of India's many TV channels broke a
story about Greg Chappell having harsh words for his wards before a
practice session. In a country where analysis of sport on TV remains
laughably slapstick, such things make news - a coach actually having a go
at his players? Perish the thought! But after this shambles of a
performance, some of those players should be profoundly grateful that they
don't play for an Alex Ferguson or a Vince Lombardi. If that had been the
case, cups and saucers or boots would surely have been thrown around the
dressing room, with one or two repeat offenders banished into the frozen
The litany of woe started right at the top with Virender Sehwag. What does
it say of a man when he plays in the same team as two of the greatest
batsmen of all time - and coached by another - that he keeps getting out
the same way time after time? Does it show an unwillingness to learn, a
man so deeply entrenched in a comfort zone that he can't even make the
effort? Or is he another Jerry Lee Lewis, who once proclaimed: "If I'm
going to hell, I'm going there playing the piano", the difference being
that Sehwag doesn't seem to be able to manage more than a few notes before
the curtain rushes down.
The cameo is something that comes naturally to Suresh Raina as well these
days. If he wasn't making a run, you could just write it off as bad form,
or bad luck. But when a batsman manages to get a start, and then throws it
away in a variety of ways, it reveals a deeper malaise. The way
he's being utilised also needs to be looked at carefully. If the
contention is that Raina offers a greater matchwinning option than
Mohammad Kaif, who had three 50s in his last 10 outings, then he should be
batting at No.3 where he has the time to construct an innings.
With teams having exercised caution during the Power Plays thanks to the
prevalent conditions in this tournament, Irfan Pathan's big-hitting
capabilities would surely have been more useful lower down the order. In
conditions that cried out for attritional disciplined cricket, batsman
after batsman chose the Bollywood option. But for Rahul Dravid's splendid
49, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni's wonderfully restrained 51, it was an
abysmal showing, one that would have had Brett Lee and friends licking
their lips up country. Later in the day, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh
Sarwan and Runako Morton showed how it should be done, with
beautifully paced innings that made easy work of a challenging target
before the inexplicable wobble at the finish.
With the exception of the dogged Munaf Patel, India's bowling with the new
ball was just as woeful. Pathan got some swing, but offered up a four-ball
every so often, while Rudra Pratap Singh's shoddy display merely made the
selectors look foolish for having left out S Sreesanth. An
atrocious bit of fielding on the rope, and two tennis-ball bouncers that
Chanderpaul pulled contemptuously for four summed up his evening.
Both Pathan and RP Singh could have learnt so much from Ian Bradshaw and
Dwayne Smith, who recognise their own limitations and the state of the
pitch far better than most. Bradshaw is one of one-day cricket's invisible
stars, a man who almost guarantees you two or three wickets in the course
of a miserly spell. As for Smith, he slips easily into the sort of role
that Gavin Larsen once performed with such distinction for New Zealand.
And then there was Jerome Taylor, long-limbed and languid in the best
tradition of West Indian quicks. His sterling display, both with the new
ball and later in the innings, was proof if any was needed that there's
always a place for genuine pace. On paper, it may not be the most lethal
attack in the world, but the way Brian Lara, and Sarwan against Australia,
shuffle the pack around has been an object lesson for many.
India's foibles extended to the field as well, with Raina's drop of Chris
Gayle proving extremely costly at the start. A batsman of the calibre of
VVS Laxman has been excluded on the grounds that his fielding isn't up to
scratch, but when those that replace him aren't worth more than 15 or 20
runs with the bat, it makes you wonder about the wisdom of sidelining a
man who has one-day hundreds against Australia and Pakistan.
Harbhajan Singh's continued excellence with the ball made defeat appear
respectable, but in reality it was anything but. Having got their bad game
out of the way in an inconsequential tie against Sri Lanka, West Indies
are looking ominously good in defence of their title, while India look
every inch a side that misplaced their self-belief sometime during the off
season. The chances of rediscovering it on a bouncy Mohali pitch against
Australia must be rated very slim indeed.
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Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo