Why out-choking South Africa was the result India needed

9 wickets for 29 runs. Pause for a moment and let that sink in. Even if the pitch was a mine field and the bowlers delivering unplayable deliveries ball after ball, there is simply no excuse for the best batting line up in the world to implode in such a spectacular manner. It was a choke of the highest order, and the South African team would have appreciated that. Then in the second innings, India did pretty well to keep them to 284 with 13 runs to get at the start of the final over. Then Dhoni threw the ball to Nehra; and I immediately expected South Africa to win with a ball to spare. As it turned out, Peterson didn’t even wait till then. I was so stressed out with the result, that I literally had a migraine attack for the next few hours!

Still, now that I have had time to calm down and think about it, this might be the best result for India at this stage. As Dileep Premachandran pointed out in a tweet during the game, a loss will be the only outcome which will force Dhoni’s hand, to make changes to the bowling line up. Why Dhoni went with three pacers against a team like South Africa who struggle against spinners, is beyond me. Having Munaf and Nehra play in the same game is a recipe for disaster and Dhoni paid for stubbornly sticking to whatever game plan he had in his head. How India would have loved to have Ashwin bowling in the batting power play, when De Villiers and co took off! The time for experimentation and improving ‘mental strength’ of players is over – Ashwin has to come in, and Nehra has to sit out. I am not a big fan of Munaf, but compared to Nehra, he has shown more discipline and skill while bowling during crucial phases of the game. Still, it was sad that while Zak was bowling his heart out with skill and precision, the other pacers couldn’t support him. Harbhajan bowled better than his figures suggest, and hopefully this result will stoke his ego and bring out the best in him for the next game.

It was a strange kind of day, where India regressed on one area of their game which is their strength and improved in an area which is their traditional weakness. Batting has always been India’s forte, and after reaching 267/1 in 39 overs, one would have expected a minimum score of 350 with the likes of Yuvraj, Dhoni and Pathan to come in. The events following the exits of Tendulkar and Gambhir still rankle, and I won’t dwell much on it; but Dhoni hit the nail on the head, when he suggested that the batsmen shouldn’t have played to the gallery. With the quick fall of the settled batsmen, it was a time to play safe for a few overs and then cut loose. Instead, Pathan, Yuvraj, Harbhajan all fell to glory shots, when the need of the hour was to hit and run in the presence of a brilliant bowling and fielding effort by the South Africans. Even if we had stumbled on to 320, we could have made a better fist of it. As in the case of Zaheer on the bowling front, all the good work done by Sachin and Sehwag went to nought after the poor follow up by the middle and lower order. Still, I feel that the batting is in good hands, and it is a matter of realizing now that it is never a good time to become complacent. From now on, the batsmen will do well to remember the great implosion at Nagpur when they face off against other teams in the future, and bat according to the situation.

As for the traditional weakness, if at all there is something Dhoni can be happy about, it is the fielding. It still wasn’t perfect, with a couple of dropped catches and singles allowed to be converted into twos, but overall, there was a marked improvement in the fielding. Fielders who usually love to escort the ball to the boundary, now put in dives to ensure that there wouldn’t be any freebies for the batsmen. Kohli, Sehwag, Harbhajan and even Tendulkar at some point, would have gladdened Dhoni’s heart, who might actually start to believe now that there IS a way for the fielding standards to improve. Hopefully, they can sustain the same kind of intensity in the next game as well.

A brief mention about the behavior of Bhajji. While I do not condone abuse of any kind, I think it is important to remember that not every bowler can be a Murali, who responds with a grin when he picks up a wicket. There was a lot of consternation in the twitter-sphere and Cricinfo live comm feedback section over Harbhajan’s reaction to De Villiers’ wicket; and while I belive that it is not necessary for a feisty send off to the dismissed batsman, I believe that players like Bhajji need that kind of spark to play better. It is not pretty to watch, but neither is it pretty to see that when Steyn reacts in almost a similar manner.

So there it is. I needed to get that of my chest. While India are still searching for a convincing victory in this campaign, I feel that things are slowly falling into place. I believe that we have finally stumbled on to our best combination. The only change I would bring about is the inclusion of Ashwin in place of Nehra. The bowling and fielding showed signs of improvement, while one bad day at the office will not erase the fact that the Indian batting is still the best in the business. If all these areas of India’s game comes together, India might just be glad for that loss to South Africa, which would have prompted a re-think of their strategy and emboldened their players to play better.

13 comments

  1. Like you, I am also trying to incline myself to believe that things are slowly starting to fall in place for India… and that the performances of the Group stages will highlight all the aspects of the game where tightening of screws is needed.

    India has dropped 3 points in this tournament thus far… and I am just trying to imagine how very different things could have been had Praveen Kumar not been injured!

    1. So far, the World Cup has not exactly gone as well as Dhoni and co would have imagined at the start of the tournament…still, I believe that Dhoni and Kirsten are too smart to keep making the same mistakes over and over again..that is the main reason for my optimism…
      Though, I will add, that if I see Nehra in the playing XI again, India might as well concede any hopes of winning the World Cup..

      1. You are right that Dhoni & Kirsten are too smart to let this loss and the implosion of our middle order affect their plans and thinking. It is the same reason why I too have not given up hopes. After all, they have been winning in similar conditions for quite some time now. They must be doing something right, isn’t it?

        Frankly, I don’t mind seeing Nehra in the XI again. He is a much better bowler than the last over he bowled. But I don’t know whether this would called genuine faith in his abilities OR clinging on to another hope!

  2. Tough night…but yup, certainly are lessons that India and Dhoni can take from this and other games so far. Thankfully, we’re still in the prelims.

    I completely agree with you about the fielding improvement. It was the most spirited effort I’ve seen in a while from India. The only miss that really cost us was the run-out opportunity in Zak’s last over… Peterson should have been nailed easily. Still, can’t overlook the good efforts from so many (Kohli, Bhajji, Sachin, et al).

    On the bowling combo, I’m still unsure. Ashwin of course deserves to come in. But Munaf vs Nehra is a tough one for me. In fact, I favour Nehra slightly. He’s just short of being fully back… but he’s been a reliable performer for India before his break… particularly in the latter half of 2009 when he often didn’t have Zak to partner him. But Nehra or Munaf… they really need to raise their game, and land a few yorkers or some slower bouncers… coz Dhoni will need 1 or 2 overs at the death.

    And of course, after horrible batting powerplays in 2 games, India will hopefully have learnt to use their brains a little more going forward. Guys like Sachin, Gauti and Virat should largely stick to proper on-the-ground strokes while Pathan and Yuvi need to pick their bowlers and their shots more judiciously.

    PS: Loved Dhoni’s statement for his players…”play for the country, not for the galleries.” Hopefully, next weekend will showcase all that we’re hoping for.

    1. It is so frustrating because I believe that despite all our shortcomings, we are talented enough to win this World Cup…I appreciate Dhoni for his faith in some of the players, who despite that keep letting him down..but we are out of time..hope MSD takes the right calls from now on..could be the difference between a World Cup win and an early exit..

  3. Hi Benny,

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  4. I don’t know, I always love to think after a loss that the supported team will learn a few things and bounce back but it doesn’t always happen. The captain and management sometimes have this irking habit of sticking to faults. Well, Dhoni won’t at least be bowling Nehra in the 50th over anymore. 😉

    As for Bhajji, (and for whom my hate is no secret),there’s a difference in being pumped up and being offensive. He can hop around like an easter bunny in exuberance for all I care but he could shut up a little more often. Even Kohli, he surprised me when he took that catch. What was it he said? I can’t lipread. 😛

    1. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I’m confident that Dhoni and Kirsten are smart enough to not keep making the same mistakes over and over again…at least, I hope so 😦

      Oh, Kohli was throwing around the standard cuss words, which has almost become compulsory when a wicket falls after a period of slogging against the Indians…not proud of their behaviour but as I said, in the heat of an encounter people do and say stupid things…I guess it is something which will never change..

  5. One of the strangest games in recent memory. After all that talk of Chawla vs Ashwin (and MSD repeatedly backing the leggie), playing the extra paceman was a real head-scratcher. My guess is that the overdependence on spin during the England game made the attack look very “samey”, and with Yuvraj having done a good job in the last couple of games, the think tank probably thought Nehra wouldbring in variety. Variety only for variety’s sake is no use. Pretty much agree with BP’s comment on the batsmen needing to use their brains a bit more in the slog-over phase.

    As regards on-field behaviour, if all that swearing and posturing actually works for Bhajji, then fair enough. I always thought it came off as a little forced at times, especially in the case of someone like Sreesanth.

    1. Well, if you have noticed, most comebacks by India will feature some atrocious behavior by the players…It is a sad but effective way of firing themselves up..

  6. I would bowl Nehra in the last over again, and not Bhajji. Nehra has been a good death bowler in the past, and just because he was shit this time doesn’t mean he’ll be worse next time. Harbhajan chickens out of bowling in such crunch situations, as he did in the T20 WC too. Munaf is also a terrible death bowler, because his natural area is always length. If we’re playing two quicks, I’d pick Nehra over Munaf just because everyone else is worse at death bowling (apart from Zak obviously).

    1. The sad part is, the moment Nehra had the ball at the start of the final over, I knew we were going to lose…
      Thats how much my confidence in him has gone down…I backed him for the 2nd seamer’s spot at the start of the tournament but he is not the same bowler he was a few months ago…doesn’t make sense to pick him based on hope and sentiment alone…
      Ideally, I would have wanted Zak to bowl the last over, but then we would have lost in the 49th over itself 😦

  7. what i could say is very bad innings with SA. never do mistake again if you are doing same then u r out of World cup. Better throw Nehra out and bring ashwin back…& throw Koli & bring raina back to team….which is 100% correct…if DhONY still having hope on few players like chawala, nehra, koli then india is a super looser for sure…

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