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India's Cup of doom


I hope India choked against Sri Lanka on May 11th 2010. I hope that seasoned professionals with significant amounts of experience lost the plot in a crunch game. I hope it was technical deficiencies brought about by an all-consuming focus on the money-engorged IPL that was the cause for their 2nd embarrassing exit in as many editions of the T20 World Cup. Because the alternative is way too disturbing.
When a team needs not just a win, but a defined margin of victory, to stay alive in a big tournament, one of two things tends to happen…all out "nothing-to-lose" cricket that shocks the opponent or abject surrender. India did neither yesterday.
A statistic that reads 37 in the last 5 overs leads you to expect a clump of wickets resulting from desperate heaves by the batsmen. The fact, though, is that only 3 wickets fell. At the end of the 10th over, India were at 90/1. 10 overs to go with almost the entire batting lineup to come. The 2nd wicket fell in the 12th over, when Dhoni promoted himself to number 4. The score was 98/2 after 12 overs. From then until the end of the final over, India scored 65 runs for the loss of 3 more wickets. Dhoni faced 19 balls and scored 23 runs. He hit one ball over the rope, while most of the other deliveries were a combination of nudged singles and mistimed drives. At no stage did he look like he was out there to get as many as possible without regard to losing his wicket. A total that was expected to be 180-plus ended up at 163.
In contrast to the Indian innings, Sri Lanka were at 58/3 at their halfway mark. The required run rate for them was 10.60 and for India to defend was 8.60. Sri Lanka needed a win and needed over 11 an over in the last five. Big matches and slowing tracks make anything over 7 a challenge but Sri Lanka not only knocked out India but also won the game. Like the batsmen, none of the bowlers lost the plot save for a Nehra. With a run rate of 7 to defend (to qualify), Dhoni got Vinay Kumar to bowl around the wicket to defend the shorter legside boundary over where three boundaries were hit. Instead of providing run savers within the circle on the offside, he went for a deep point where the batsmen collected their singles and twos with disdainful ease. Only when Sri Lanka had scored 143 did he bring more fielders into the circle. What followed can be attributed to a demoralized side having nothing to play for, or something more.
I have observed Dhoni's batting and his captaincy for too long to be left wondering... about the 19 deliveries he faced, he played not more than 3-4 shots in anger, about the defensive field placements that gave easy singles to a middle-order that had scored precious little in the tournament so far. Dhoni's tactics have sometimes been unorthodox before but never plain defensive and daft. I am left with an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach about whether it was 11 against 11 in India's final match at the T20 World Cup.
I hope India are really that bad.
"Anoop is another one of those millions who thinks that having played some university and club-level cricket qualifies him to critique and analyze the game at its highest level. He blogs at outsideedge.wordpress.com where the one redeeming feature is the honest disclosure by way of his nickname, donthaveaclue"

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