As I thought, and mentioned to some, before the start of the WI chase, this match was to me still looking to be in India's favour, even if only slightly so. The reason being that India has had a good look at what kind of bowling worked in these conditons, and they had the ammunition to use them. The biggest requirement was the right tactics, and therefore this was probably the biggest challenge of Rahul's captaincy upto now. As you all would agree, he failed on certain fronts. Not the end of the world....but still I would think highlighting those issues is worth a shot. So, here goes..
1) Even when Kaif was struggling out of his bad patch, I had mentioned that there would be days when he would bat better. But even then, India should never have him and Rao in the same lineup. The reason?...well I could clearly see the disaster scenario - exactly what happened yesterday. That (his and Rao's presence at the crease together) along with Dhoni's careless runout cost us the easy route to winning the game.
2) India seriously needs to think if Rao is the best bench strength that they should take to the world cup. Harsha had mentioned something similar in his audio chat that I linked to earlier - that India needs to consider if Rao and Uthappa are better than, say, a Ganguly and a Laxman. That does not mean we need those two back necessarily...just that these two are not likely to strengthen our bench for the world cup. And Rao is not exactly Jhonty in the field...heck he's not even a Raina in the field.
3) Perhaps Uthappa should have been played instead of Rao, and Rahul should have come down to the middle order. Which seemed the right choice...unless the team management has even less confidence in Uthappa than in Rao? Ofcourse once again the question arises that what other options did Rahul really have? That shows we need better bench strength...and fast.
4) Playing 5 bowlers is a good strategy....but that banks heavily on the allrounders and bowlers contributing. Pathan seems to be out of sorts (hopefully for a short period) with the bat, and the other bowlers haven't had enough time in the middle in recent times (e.g. Santh had zero runs to his name after 16 matches!!). I don't know whether playing additional batsman instead of 5th bowler would have helped....but then we didnt really use the part timers...or rather didnt have much options, did we?
5) Which brings me to the next point - a match in which 3 part-time spinners derailed our batting completely, how can one explain the introduction of spin attack as late as 17th over of the innings....and of part timer (Sehwag) well after the 40th over - when India was looking increasingly doomed to lose?
6) I said in the beginning, this was a match that could have been won by tactics, since we were outplayed in basic skills. Rahul's bigger mistakes was the late use of spinners. Irfan being shunted out after 4 ineffective overs is ok (give that guy a break, he's had a fantastic run on worse pitches) but being brought back soon for a second spell was wrong. The defence of this inadequate total required innovations - something which India has been showing abundantly in their batting lineup., but hardly at all in their approach to bowling attack. Brian Lara showed much better judgment in his attack, and thats reflects poorly on captain who's had the confidence of a sterling season behind him.
Finally, a word to those jumping on the 'tigers at home minnows abroad' bandwagon - I would like to request them to elaborate further. Does this mean that we're minnows even against part-time abroad? Does that mean we're minnows when our spinners get turn on the pitch, and our seamers get conditions on which they've just finished a successful season? If not, then a re-think of your bashing slogan is in order? Because that tigers phrase has a valid use - it means the team struggles in conditions alien for its batsmen and bowlers....not on tracks that make you wonder if its the neighbouring island we're visiting instead of one 1000s of miles away.
Finally, as Prem mentioned in his closing statement, the task of winning the series just became all the more uphill for India - not only because we're 2-1 down but also because there's the danger of a yet-to-fire Lara lurking around the corner. My worry, to add to it, is that India started the series by a scratchy start that showed we could do better, or even that we were the better side, just not playing upto the mark, has now moved down to a point where we're consistently being outplayed in all aspects of the game - batting, bowling, fielding and strategising.
Friday would surely be the biggest challenge, going into a match and series situation, for Rahul since his captaincy....for not only is this is the first time we've lost two games in a row, but also the first time we risk losing a series, and losing it before its over! It'd also be a big step towards answering the question (to the fans and to the team management as well) as to how far have we come in our development as an ODI unit.
In terms of bench strength, we certainly can do better than Rao. But I doubt Ganguly and Laxman are the answer.
Shikhar Dhawan of Delhi is a fine young strokeplayer. I was very impressed by him in the U19 World Cup, and since then he's been quite consistent for in both the long and short forms of domestic cricket. In fact, his List A record is even more impressive than Uthappa's. I'm trying to figure out just why he isn't in the side.
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