Tik 20

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In 2007, I had hesitatingly “predicted” (perhaps too strong a word) India’s victory in the T20 World Cup. This was because I saw in them a shadow of our 1983 World Cup team—- underdogs, with little in the way of reputation and unsullied by  expectation.

This time however I saw in them the team of 1987  i.e. mega-hyped pre-tournament favorites who dominate the tournament and then in a few moments of madness (not keeping men for Gooch’s sweep, Kapil Dev’s crazy slog-sweep) throw it all away.

I was wrong. The Indian team of 2009 World Cup, unlike their grand-daddys in 87, never really looked, at any point of time, capable of going the distance. In all the matches save against Ireland they rarely dominated with their tournament hopes being obliterated by losing to two of the weakest teams in the league of the Big Boys—the English and the West Indies. When they played for pride, they did even worse going down in a spineless, spiritless surrender to South Africa.

And the saddest thing about India’s debacle is that they looked like rabbits, genuinely outclassed by their opposition. Indian batsmen, in the throwback to the 70s and the 80s, were undone by short deliveries as they took their eyes of the ball, top-edged, dragged onto the stumps and in general got themselves into the most frightful of tangles. Watching the so-called “greatest Indian batting line up ever” struggle against well-directed but definitely far short of Marshall-Ambrose quality bowling on pitches that had no Perthian demons in them, was to, put it mildly, embarrassing. An embarrassment that was further exacerbated by their clueless hobble against the tepid spin of Botha and Van Der Meowwww.

If there is any silver lining in this drubbing, it is that hopefully the expectations from Dhoni’s men which had scaled stratospheric heights, on the back of some genuinely good performances and a lot of vacuous fizzle-pop in the private mujra known as the IPL  will be brought down to realistic levels.

No dear Indian cricket fan. Neither passion nor junoon nor the “never-say-die-spirit” of Youngistan nor “whatever buzzword the admeisters cook up and fans then repeat like zombies” can consistently gloss over technical shortcomings and strategic ineptness.

The Indian war machine has looked invincible over the past few months based on the superlative form of their openers—Gambhir and Sehwag. The hammering they inflicted on the opposition alone and often in tandem simply papered over many of the team’s shortcomings. It was inevitable that the bubble, like the mortgage market, was going to burst some day.  And once it did with Sehwag moping around, physically and emotionally wounded like an aged spinster and Gambhir in a scratchy trough, the stuffing came out in a “dudh ka dudh paani ka paani” way.

Rohit Sharma has more than a passing resemblance to Vinod Kambli and let me leave it at that. Yousuf Pathan is a batsman severely challenged in terms of ability. He can  destroy attacks that consist of Laxmiratan Sukla and Ajit Agarkar (and by recent performance Ishant Sharma) but consistently struggles against the next rung up the quality ladder.

His success against decent opposition is predicated by the way he is used. Shane Warne is a master of this and through two seasons of IPL has reaped great success by floating Yousuf Pathan through the line-up and inserting him into the mix in a strategically calculated way. In the Indian lineup however, he is used unimaginatively as he stays cast in stone in his batting position thus exposing his fundamental frailty.

Which brings us to Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Ever since Misbah-ul-Haq had a “we all go crazy sometimes” pyscho moment in the finals of the 2007 T20 World Cup, Dhoni has led a charmed life. Everything he has touched has turned into gold. Government awards. A security detail consisting of women. Bihari virgins singing for a husband like him. A price-tag to die for in the IPL.

It was inevitable that his luck would run out. Some day.

A lot has been said about Dhoni’s arrogance of late especially after his not turning up at a presidential function, rebuffing Amitabh Bachchan, openly expressing his irritation at Sehwag in a press conference and then staging a hormonally-charged dramatic display of “anger” with a very unconvincing show of strength. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance and Dhoni has been accused, of late, of being caught on the wrong side several times in the recent past.

I am not willing to put too much importance to that in the context of a post-mortem. Dhoni is what he is. If we were in the semi-finals each of these acts would be “waah-waahed” as Youngistan swagger, the signature of the “India Shining” (not to be confused with India “Shiny” which is a different kettle of fish altogether) team. So no use dissecting intangibles like Dhoni’s attitude as contributory factors for our loss. Pride may come before a fall but in this case it is rather simplistic, though emotionally satisfying (“Too big your boots eh”?) to blame pride as having caused the disaster.

What has caused the debacle has been his horrendous batting slump. Watching Dhoni bat like a fish washed onto shore fluttering his fins in impotence with his attempts at aggression (in the match against West Indies, his strike rate was 47.00) more reminiscent of Angshuman Gaekwad’s endeavors at slogging than of anything else has indeed been very painful. Again it is tempting to blame Dhoni’s conscious metamorphosis from a village-green slogger to a pusher-and-prodder for this loss of mojo, but the fact remains that when in form Dhoni is able to seamlessly move from the “steal-a-single-with-angled-bat-mode” to his “let me wield my 12 incher” mode. That he can no longer do so is a testament to the state of his mind more than the change in his batting philosophy.

Once Dhoni’s batting fell to pieces, his keeping followed suit. I dont know how many noticed this but I saw him regularly fluffing rather regulation takes behind the stumps, in a manner that would make even Deep Dasgupta smile wryly.

Where Dhoni’s total loss of form absolutely destroyed Team India was in the way it messed up his ability to lead. In an attempt to play himself into form against a so-called weak opposition, Dhoni almost gave the match to Bangladesh by going in at one drop, ahead of colleagues who were playing better, and wasting precious time. Some would say this was Dhoni putting himself before the team (something which one was led to believe was solely a prerogative of the Oldistan players) while some others would argue that he took a gamble of playing himself into form, a gamble that just didnt work out.

However what even his biggest fans would find tough to justify would be the decision to send Jadeja before Yuvraj in the match against England.  With wickets falling fast to the bouncing delivery and with the next man to go in, here is your choice—

Batsman A: The best player of pace with a special fondness for bouncy pitches. In sparking form. Has a record of saving his best for England and has a psychological edge over a key opposition bowler, who he in the previous version of the tournament carted for six sixes.

Batsman B:  A largely unknown quantity who has never been tested at the highest level and definitely not under the pressure of a must-win international situation. He is not even a batsman but more of a bits-and-pieces utility player.

Dhoni sends in Batsman B. Batsman B bats like my maternal aunty at the family picnic, flails his bat about with little effect and almost single-handedly derails the chase. Dhoni justifies his stunning decision by saying that at a time when wickets were falling, they wanted to protect Yuvraj Singh.

Protect the best batsman of the team (on current form) from what?  Astounding totally astounding.

In passing, I would like to say that I am skeptical about Gary Kirsten’s whole “blame IPL” song. The reason is simple. For the T20 World Cup tournament, the IPL would have been the perfect practice ground providing as it does an ability to hone one’s skill in the company of some of the world’s best players. I am sure AB Villiers and Dilshan (who has gone on record saying that his scoop shot was extensively practices during the IPL) would agree with me since they have carried off their excellent IPL form  into the T20 World Cup without any loss of intensity.  On the other side of the coin, Australia’s disastrous performance was blamed among other things on the fact that most of their main players had no T20 practice having opted out of the IPL. And finally, Gambhir and Sehwag looked lack luster during the IPL itself and so nothing good can come from blaming the IPL for their sorry state.

Dhoni’s men have now come a full circle. In 2007, they started off as the “replacements” for a previous generation of heroes,  popular underdogs with nothing to lose and everything to prove. They were on the offensive and they were aggressive.

In 2009, things had changed. They were no longer the “little guys”. They had now become the new “fat cats”, a part of the establishment, with everything to lose and nothing to prove. This made them so overtly defensive that they deemed it necessary to shield their best player at a time when they needed him the most.

In a way therefore, their defeat had become inevitable.

Whether Dhoni and his men are able come out stronger from this experience remains to be seen. If they can, then yes they still remain champions even though they might not have the trophy.

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49 thoughts on “Tik 20

  1. sorry vijay you lost by a min 🙂
    Yeah whenever we have a over hyped team we never perform…except maybe in Pakistan once…im not too sure… i wanna see what India TV was showing after this 😀

  2. It was like deja vu having been part of expectant fan following of the 87 World Cup Team.

    I only hope that this ‘youngisthan’ business gets toned down and the players concentrate on honing their basic skills( fileding, footwork,etc.) for a change!!

  3. There is only one solution.
    Make a south indian the captain and select more and more south indian players. See how well Anil Kumble did in test matches and IPL. Doni should be only wicket keeper.

  4. Arnab_da,
    Deep Dasgupta can be seen featuring in a talent hunt nowadays. “Kaan Moolo” & “Appam C” must be having one hell of a laugh for being left out of the The Great Indian Charade…

  5. ‘bats like my maternal aunty at the family picnic’ (-:
    Why go after Jadeja Masi, what was in form Raina doing? How does an entire team manage to loose form collectively? Team spirit of the highest order I must say.

  6. watching jadeja was like watching rahul dravid playing in absolute bore tests. btw, dravid and sachin wud’ve been a more apt choice. am wondering why kohli and nayar was not in team. and dhoni is out of form like ganguly never was. then also saurav was interesting. without power shots dhoni s simply a rat sent out to face 11 cats! X-( still fuming.

  7. There are a lot of points you can criticise the team on, true.The performances were lack-lustre and indeed there were quite a lot dubious decisions, and dubious selections as well.
    But let us not forget that this team has been performing brilliantly for the last two years and let us not be carried away by their failure in this one tournament.
    GB,I agree with you that Dhonis arrogance combined with his poor form has been detrimental to the effect of uninspiring captaincy,but let us give the man his due. He has been super successful as a batsman and skipper,and i think the media is going over the boil in their criticism of this team.
    If you cannot digest failure,you will never understand the true meaning of success.

  8. There’s a larger context here, related to IPL, which Kirsten probably din’t want to spell out loudly but we should be able to read between the lines.

    Most players were still in IPL mode and were carrying it over in WC. They could not cut themselves off from that highly glamorized, flush with cash circus; assuming their careers are made already. Who the f cares for the country when you got millions stacked and have security with your club.

    IPL in that sense damaged the Youngistan camaraderie. Every individual got bigger than his shoes. Dhoni lost his hold over the team and the new kids did not feel it important to prove their place in the team. They had proven it to “their respective” captains, just 4 weeks back and had been rewarded with hard cash.

    In the end India as a team was just an over burden for them. Their loyalties lay with their clubs.

    The “Nationalism” of Youngistan is well…. lets just say… fickle. (And its not only in cricket mind you)

    With Modi (and his greed) announcing 2 IPLs per year, the notion of “Team India” looks in trouble; quite frankly.

  9. Yes, the IPL excuse was pathetic, unless Gary knows something about regular “stamina-sapping” orgies after every match, that we dont.

    I fail to see how a T20 tournament can lead to a loss of “form” in a T20 World Cup! By that logic they should stop playing practice matches with Banana-Republic-11 before every tour.

    And thankfully, I have not been following the T20 WC.

  10. While a lot has been said about the decision to send Jadeja ahead of Yuvi across various blogs and websites, am surprised to find that the persistence with Ishant has been barely mentioned.
    RP Singh was in temendous form in IPL2 but his first chance came about only in the must win England match. Ishant’s T20 track record in both International as well as IPLs has been consistently poor. (of course, he is quite a find and is a great fit for tests and maybe ODIs). But not only did he play all in the matches, he was given 4 overs in the England game (went 0-36) whereas RP ended up with only 3 overs and had figures of 1 for 13!!
    Jadeja delivered both on the bowling (he got the prize scalps of Bopara and Pieterson) and fielding fronts. I regard him way more than an utility player (he is clearly the best fielder in the team – maybe a tie with Raina here) and was vindicated in taking Ojha’s place. Praveen Kumar could have been tried out in place of Ishant and that given would strengthened the batting ( atleast on paper) as well. And probably more importantly, might have given Dhoni the courage to go for it by using a pinch hitter earlier on. The only reason to keep Irfan out would be that we would have 3 left arm seamers otherwise.

    Other decisions like choosing to come in at No.3 during the league games but then sending Raina instead in the group games, not using a hitter up the order when needed, his own lack of acceleration are quite perplexing as well.

    Dhoni, for his “cool fighter persona”, has come up remarkably short in decision making skills in the particular world cup. dition. Not sure if this was due to the distractions thanks to media-exploded so called rift with Viru.

  11. First a 23 ball 11 when batting against WI, then missing a sure shot run out of Bravo(when he was still young at the crease) who went on to win it for WI.

    Then a 20 ball 30 with no attempt at shot making(out of the 3 fours, two were outside edges, and third was on the last ball when the match was already lost), walking a single in the last over when a little bit of pressure on the fielder could have made it a two.

    Add to it the horrible team selection, who should bowl when, batting order. IMO dhoni lost it for india single-handedly

  12. one bad show and everyone wants team’s head..esp dhoni’s…do typical of indian fans…everyone fails at some point of time…so did they…

  13. @Kauteya
    “…assuming their careers are made already. Who the f cares for the country when you got millions stacked and have security with your club”.

    True..very true
    While IPL provides exposure, there is a risk of overexposure and misplaced priorities.

    Seems the negatives overwhelmed the positives.

    “The “Nationalism” of Youngistan is well…. lets just say… fickle. (And its not only in cricket mind you)”

    Bollywood nationalism 🙂

    @savita
    I am hoping Bengali vernacular press will sound the bugle for Dada’s return again.:)

  14. Forgot to mention bowling in death overs…Dhoni consistently ignored his best bowler for the day and went with Lil John

  15. When they won it, they rode Porsche and a few cheereaders; now they should be used as bullocks to till the land in Bihar and Punjab. Fuc**** as**oles, these idiots should be in jail till 2011 T20 WC is won.

  16. Great Article and very good analysis. But why don’t we blame the fans. Look at the dismal performance by New Zealand Australia or even England, the fact remains that they can afford such shows. Had India been in the same pool as New Zealand and came up with a similar performance, the reactions would have been much worse. Had India lost to the Dutchmen in their opener, there would have been a mass destruction programme in the towns of our important players. Media should know how to handle such situations. Every one knows it was rusty but they should not blow this off as if the sky is falling. I hate TOI in this regard, they make a doomsday of Indian Cricket out of every failure of Team India.

    Coming to the game itself, yes bad from day one. Dhoni at Number 3 against Bangla was most uncalled for, especially with Raina in good form at least then. Then the persistence of Ishant Sharma and dropping Irfan Pathan. MS Should realize that he is no Sachin Tendulkar with abilities & has to acknowledged that in the current team itslef, Gambhir Sehwag, Yuvraj Raina and Rohit Sharma are more talented than him and he needs their efforts collectively for any future glory.

    And I hope unlike your prediction, Rohit Sharma does at least ten times better statistically in all forms of game than what Vinod Kambli did. We need this player to do well.

  17. I don’t quite agree with your take on Yusuf Pathan’s struggles. While holding Yusuf back for the last overs cost Indian team dear, having watched Yusuf closely over the last couple of seasons, he is also a batsmen who needs a couple of overs to (forgive me for using the cliched) “get his eyes in.”
    Again on the topic of Dhoni’s keeping, I tend to think that keeping standards in India have fallen abysmally as was evident during the IPL. Even the second string including Parthiv Patel, Dinesh Karthik, Naman Ojha et al seem not better at the job than Dhoni himself.
    I tend to think this has come about because of a fascination for Keeper-Batsmen because of someone called Adam Gilchrist. But Gilli was probably once in a generation player.
    Last but not the least, you seem to have overlooked India’s fielding woes. Be it Yuvraj Singh’s woeful miss off the penultimate ball of England innings (which in my view cost India its place in the tournament, strategic mistakes or not !!) or the general lethargy in the field, India was probably the worst fielding side in the tournament save Pakistan & WI’s poor catching.
    Surely you would not agree with the vindictive journos such as Borna Mojumdar (of Times Now) & heap all the blame on Dhoni’s head.

  18. I am still unable to figure out why Dhoni & Yusuf didnt even try for a second run off the second-last delivery of the last over against England when India needed 9 runs off 2 deliveries.

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  20. Just read your old 20-20 post. And I am honestly impressed with your foresight. Not in predicting India’s win but with your take on why 20-20 was here to stay. Until now, apart from your devasting humour, what I have REALLY liked about you is (for lack of a better word) wisdom. Wisdom as in your ability to enjoy the small, “useless”, “stupid” things in life and STILL juggle a PHD career. I envy you for that, lacking both. 🙂

  21. I have my dounts over Dhoni’s ability as a class player and strategist, but somehow I cant think of another individual who can lead this team right now.

    Raina and Sharma should go and play county for Surrey for a season instead of the IPL. I believe Surrey has reasonably bouncy tracks.

  22. As you said, the only positive aspect of it was that Indian fans will now have less expectations from the team. These guys need a break.

  23. @GB – Its Raina whos got a likeness to Kambli, not Sharma. Infact this guys plays the horizontal bat shots better than most of his team mates.

  24. Dhoni’s captaincy was quite flabbergasting, and on multiple levels. Team selection, batting order, bowling rotations – there were wide gaps in every area. And this is not just in retrospect. It was clear to the slightest discerning cricket viewer where he was going wrong. The question is – if the decisions were so obviously incorrect, why did he take them?

    IMO, the answer lies in personality. Dhoni is a fiercely competitive and self-confident man under a polite and reasonable exterior. And since he had been on a winning streak for the last few months – the press had all rolled over and played dead to his faults. The result was that he had started believing in his own invincibility. The aura that the adulatory public and press and bestowed upon him – he began to take as a right instead of a privilege. Self confidence became arrogance.

    Two examples to prove my point:
    1) His brusque responses to rumors of team disunity, leading to THAT bizarre Unity Parade.
    2) His bone headed and stubborn refusal to change his team composition against SA, when the same team had lost to England the previous day. It was almost like – “How dare you all criticize my team selection? I’ll show you by playing the exact same team!”

    I think this ouster is good for the team. It’s a kick up their keisters they desperately needed.

    PS: Can’t resist this one, but wasn’t Ganguly supposed to be the weak link in India’s teal wrt playing the short/fast bowling? And wasn’t his exit supposed to give chances to the brilliant pace bowling players who were being denied a place because of Ganguly?

  25. Gr8 analysis…as usual. I personally feel that the team did not have the hunger to win. It was clearly evident in their body language throughout the games. Gone are the days when it was every youngster’s dream to play for Team India. Now, they can perform in the IPL & get instant fame & fortune. They now lack the intensity when they come out to play for INDIA. Perhaps their IPL success has gone to their heads big time. They need to shed this mentality ASAP, else, the future seems really sorry…

  26. Just an aside… Protest march in Kolkata regarding the police action in lalgarh… this is getting ridiculous…

  27. @abhinash…the same team (some times SRT included) had been doing pretty well just befor the tournament on national duties…..one bad performance and future looks bleak…it looked bleak in after WC2007…bt actually turned out be be much better….

  28. Pakistan might win… they are in dire straits. Something had to be done so as to keep cricket alive from the impending Taliban. After all there is no Bollywood support for them, (not everyone is a Shoaib Akhtar anyway) .

  29. I agree with Shan’s observations above but I think he left a couple things understated. Before you read further, I want you to understand that I am a big time supporter and fan of Dhoni. One of the primary reasons could be probably because he is the only ‘cricketing star’ (if you will) that my home state of Jharkhand has ever produced.
    Dhoni is a good leader. He brings a cool aura in an Indian captain, which has always been recognized by almost all and sundry and is very much needed.
    However, his successes almost always had a very non-obvious element to it. I will concede that during those successes even I marvelled at his ‘insight’. Handing the ball over in the last over to Joginder in the 2007 T20 world cup, handing the ball over to the spinners in IPL and T20 world cup within the first 6 overs, constantly changing the batting line up, bringing himself up in the batting line up etc. Yeah, when those things work it is all fine and dandy and oh, he is so wise! But, now I have started doubting my interpretations of his actions a bit. Because I see the law of averages unfold in front of my eyes. The same ‘gambles’ (and I am feeling more confident by the day, to call it that) are now getting ‘evened’ out. And my concern is not about the Indian captain trying/gambling in that regard. I would actually support out of the box thinking. My concern is whether he is learning from them. At this moment, I cannot say I see him doing that.
    And what concerns me further is that I do not think a whole lot is very comprehensive about Dhoni even in the longer form of the game. In this forum, I had earlier expressed my utter incomprehension during the last test against New Zealand when, in my meager opinion, Team India just gave the match away in the middle of a giggle-spree (and I myself watched, in horror, Dhoni participating in that giggle fest). So, I am a very confused soul at this moment when it comes to Dhoni and do not know what to make out of him any more.
    I also do not know if it is just me or if anyone else has also noticed that even after that Dhoni-Sehwag alleged rift call and the subsequent drama of reading from a script to the media, the media has been exceptionally tolerant and supportive of Dhoni. I really wonder why! I personally did not think of that act as a very matured one. Besides that incident, any other captain would probably have been torn to shreds after the last test match with New Zealand. I just think that most everybody is still too Dhoni-struck. I say, pause! And see where his batting and his keeping is nowadays (in my opinion, he had always been a mediocre keeper but he is still managing to slide lower)!
    Finally, I am not trying to blame Dhoni alone for India not making past what they did in T20 World Cup. Lord knows there are a whole bunch of people to share the blame but, puhleze, someone bring Dhoni down to earth! I think he would serve all, himself included, better. At the very least, please let me see the same Dhoni of yore in the batting crease! What the heck did he do to himself as a batter?

  30. Hat’s off to the Pakistani team for defying all odds, displaying splendid performance and grit, and accomplishing their T20 world championship status.

    This is what love of one’s nation, religion and fellow countrymen is about. Severe weaknesses were patched up in the determination to excel.

    This is a facet of Islam I have always respected and recommended.

    Hat’s of Pakistan for a brilliant win. You guys thoroughly deserved it.

  31. Dhoni is a Ch&t. I meant *oo* not *ea*.
    Perhaps you havent known these two news items
    http://www.gyanin.com/story.php?title=Policeman-transferred-fining-Dhoni
    http://www.telegraphindia.com/1080404/jsp/jharkhand/story_9093831.jsp

    And there is one more that I can’t find where the judge had to apologize for asking Dhoni to appear in court for some bureaucratic reason.
    I guess you don’t dare blog these kind of news.. do you? 😉

    Question is:
    Did the cop that handed out ticket to Dhoni called a press conference or was it Dhoni’s family who called the local thulla inspector to transfer that little idiot who was just doing his job? I doubt if it was the first one.
    Calling Dhoni a national example would be far from the truth.
    He is just an example of a real Bihari.
    That’s all.

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