Observation 1: While we came very close to becoming the statistical number 1 ODI team in the world, the fact remains that we have far too many fundamental problems to claim that we rightfully deserve the top rank.
For one, Australia showed us where exactly we stand in one of the defining criteria for excellence as a sporting country—depth of talent.
The Australia of 2009 is a pale shadow of that of 2007 in terms of ability. On top of that, more than half of their first team were not available due to a rotten run of injuries. And yet second and third-choice players like Bollinger were able to turn in match-winning performances in conditions, totally foreign to them and with very little preparation since many of them were hurriedly drafted into the squad. In contrast, the Indian side seems to be unable to recover from the absence of just one player—-pace-spearhead Zaheer Khan for several series now, an absence we have had sufficient time to plan for.
Observation 2: Another place where the gulf between us and what it takes to be number 1 has been tragically exposed has been in the domain of basic skills—-running between the wickets and fielding. The errors that we were told had ended with Ganguly and Azhar and Laxman— of not getting between the throw and wickets, of not diving and sliding, of taking extra steps to avoid throws—was manifested again and again and in multiple players. And the lesser said about the fielding the better. This is one aspect where the Indian team, never the best team in this respect, has fallen sharply even from its 2006–2007 levels with even on the day where it fielded the best it had in many years (Dhoni’s own admission) it was still upstaged by Ponting’s men.
In the field, Sehwag moves about like he is taking an afternoon stroll. Kim Sharma would hit the stumps more often than Yuvraj Singh. Now before you say “Hey these Gen Next players are also not as young anymore” it is worth looking at the way players like Ponting and even Hussey (who is not a natural athlete) maintain spectacularly high standards of fielding, despite them not exactly being spring chicken. It is evident that the problem has got less to do with age and more to do with the traditional Indian “we are seniors we can take it easy” attitude, an attitude I was given to believe went out with the Oldistan generation.
Observation 3: The Indian bowling cupboard looks totally bare, either because our sensational pace discoveries lose their pace [ a condition known as Prasaditis] one or two seasons after their arrival (first it was Irfan, then it was Munaf and now it is Ishant) or because they lose their mind (example too obvious to be stated). Of course that we knew for some time now. The Australians with their immense depth in pace bowling stocks seemed to make this shortcoming even more damning.
Observation 4: His batting may have improved out of sight but Harbhajan Singh, bar an isolated performance or two, is one of the side’s biggest weaknesses. In the match at Guwahati on a spinning track with India defending a low score and the captain needing to call in his main strike bowler as soon as possible (no sense in holding him back) Dhoni tellingly turned first to, no not Harbhajan, but spinning all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja. And throughout the innings, it was Jadeja who looked the most dangerous, threatening a wicket whenever he had the ball. In contrast, Harbhajan delivered a phone-in performance and even though he got 2 wickets to Jadeja’s none, he never looked like he would run through the Australians.
One couldnt help but think of a tall, bespectacled intense looking man who, in countless matches where the Indian batting had failed and where the pitch was taking turn, would bowl his heart out prising batsmen one by one. Not that he could bring victory every time (he still won more than the present “India’s No 1 strike bowler” can ever hope to) but as long as he had an over to go, we fans always knew there was some hope.
With Harbhajan there is little.
Observation 5: It was perhaps as much as indictment of Harbhajan’s spinning skills as that of Youngistan’s weakness against spin that Hauritz, for most of the time, looked the best spinner on both sides.In the past, touring spinners far better than Hauritz have met their Waterloos in India because players like Dada, Sidhu and Laxman used their legs to play them unlike today’s Indian batsman who favor playing from the crease. With the exception of old-school Sachin in Hyderabad, not one Indian player tried to give Hauritz the charge or throw him off length in the manner that the previous occupants of their batting slots used to. The result was that he got away looking far better than he is.
Observation 6: Okay. India is in a must-win game. In Guwahati with a very early morning start and fog around coupled with Australia’s strong pace bowling lineup and India’s well-known problem against the swinging ball, Dhoni still decides to bat on winning the toss. I do not know why he thought that batting first would be less risky than chasing on a pitch which would spin later and where the opponent bowling attack did not consist of Mendis and Murali but Hauritz and Vosges. But even if we consider that he trusted the Indian batsmen to last out the opening hour, why then did he pick three seamers (despite Munaf having a very poor match) and not play Amit Mishra , considering his game plan was based critically on the assumption that playing spin on this pitch would be much more difficult than playing pace?
Observation 7: Given the right teams and given the right timing (i.e. in the holiday season and not in April) one day internationals can be as money-making, crowd-pulling and exciting as T20 cricket.