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The Great Indian Collapse, or is it?

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It was the final match of the 2003 World Cup at Johannesburg.

Team Australia had totally decimated the men in blue once again, proving that they were way better than India in all aspects of the game, that more than one bowler in their lineup could take wickets, more than one batsman could get past a fifty, and as a team could make the scoreboard of a WC final look laughably silly. I switched to another channel on the television set and imagined that it didn't happen.


When India played Australia yesterday in the Super eights yesterday, all this was not on my mind, at least initially. Come on, you should admit that India are a Champion side, though mostly underperforming. I was expecting Australia to put 160 or 170 on the board, and India taking the match into the 'nail biting' category, before winning or losing it.

Yes, I was in for a rude shock.

It was all fun to start with, what with that maiden over from Harbhajan. Warner and Watson then decided to see just how strong the rest of the Indian attack was, playing Harbhajan intelligently and the others brutally. A few bowlers like Ravindra Jadeja were taken for a ride all over the park. And then, the only (decent) speedster in the entire tour squad, Zaheer Khan, failed.

It all played in front of me, the nightmare. If Zaheer didn't bowl well on this track and Harbhajan having bowled out his first three overs pretty quickly - and a bunch of not-so-specialist spinners left, I knew what was coming... yes, a proper spanking. The good bowling by Nehra in the 18th and 20th over when he foxed David Hussey with a slower ball and sent a yorker to Michael's leg stump showed that the bowlers could have done a lot better. Bangladesh did a much better job with the ball against Australia, although I guess it wasn't on a pitch tailor made for the Aussies.

We had our issues with the short ball, yes, primarily because no batsman in India barring Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar have, surprisingly, even considered it as a threat to prepare for over the years, even after getting repeatedly done in by that oh so beautiful bounce... and of course, this wasn't a test match to let the ball go and get a 'well left' remark from the fans, though I'd have preferred that to that particular attempt from Gambhir. But, was that our main problem?

Rohit Sharma, the stats say, did an awesome job. Of course, I didn't have the heart to see the entire match after Nannes sent Yuvraj back to have his early lunch (oh boy!) with that photogenic delivery. I knew it was getting to me when I started appreciating Australian bowlers in the midst of that massacre, so I had to take a break.

So, was the short delivery our only major problem, as the mainstream media project it to be? The way I see it, it was more like the tip of the iceberg.

Why would Jadeja and especially Pathan be sent at seven and eight in a match like that? Much as we can laugh over it, Pathan is our Pollard. If he brings the required rate per over down by 2 runs going in early, who wouldn't want it? On the other hand, RCB showed the world the problem Pathan has with the bounce, but trust me when I say that he can scare even the Aussie bowlers just by being there when the target is achievable.

I would have saved Dhoni for the end. We've seen over more than a few matches that Jadeja needs his space and is best utilized in the middle order, the lowest position being, I'd say, six. If you ask me, he is wasted at eight. If you think he's the bowler who can bat and not the other way around, ask Shane Warne. Thankfully (or otherwise), the Indian batting above Jadeja has been strong that we haven't often felt the need for him to fire. If you need a bowler who can take a wicket bowling to a rampaging Warner and an even worse Watson, Jadeja, Raina or Rohit would not be the spinner I would look at. That's why you have a certain Chawla in the squad. Well, the more important question of whether we actually needed a spinner in those conditions is for another day. (Umesh, Vinay - anyone?) Jadeja is the guy who can slip in four quick overs when the batsmen are not sure if they have to go for it. That certainly wasn't the case yesterday.

The biggest problem I saw was getting the wickets of the openers (and a certain David Hussey); but for them, Australia wasn't half as dangerous. Clarke isn't exactly at his striking best, we saw what Nehra could do to Michael, and Cameron White is not the most consistent Australian batsman. Haddin, seriously?

Nehra bowled well at the death, as he always does under huge pressure. If only he bowled like that even when there's no pressure (read - initial overs), we could have had a game on our hands. Or if Zak had added to the pressure by not giving sixes in any of his first three overs. Harbhajan bowled well (much like the 2003 final); so it would have been interesting to see what Chawla was capable of. Somehow, this team with three specialist bowlers amuses me (not considering the fact that Zaheer and Harbhajan actually did their bit with the bat as well). Four... yes, there is a logic, but three?

The pitch helped the bowlers more than the batsmen, and now we know where our weakness lies, don't we?

Still, given the two ball limit on very short deliveries and an achievable target although on a difficult pitch, I expected the batsmen to play a lot better. We are (supposedly) a team of match-winners, after all.

To sum it up, I'd say that we've been winning matches for quite a while now 'in spite of' our problems... but then, that has always been the case with us. I don't see a repeat of this match if we meet Australia again in this tournament though, a match up with a very high possibility, given Srilanka's two other opponents and WestIndies' even-more-pathetic net run rate.

Like all those mad fans, I expect Dhoni to wield the magic wand (again) when that happens... and shoo all these arguments away.


( Click here to know more about Aswin )


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