The 48-run victory over Pakistan, to whom they had lost twice, at Adelaide on Tuesday, has just about enabled India to just inch away from the ropes, to use a boxing jargon, and not completely be out of the corner. Even as they hope that Pakistan lose their remaining two matches, India will have to win the next three. In order to make the final, India have to win the next three, in order to make the final India have to play Australia twice, the first of these on Republic Day at Adelaide itself. Perth in Western Australia will be the final waterloo as India play both Pakistan and Australia in a double-header. India will thus be playing four matches in a space of just six days and all of them make-or-break efforts.
Could Tuesday's victory at Adelaide be the turning point of a team that had reached frustration as not to know what victory was like. For a team so low in its morale and looking for even a flicker of inspiration, it could not have come better packaged. The ultimate victory was the outcome of a great team effort. The start of the innings was fantastic and, for once, the top order did not fritter away the advantage as easily as they had done in earlier matches. Rahul Dravid played a cameo innings, which, if it had only been a little longer, would have certainly seen India reaching around 280.
The familiar late-order collapse was unmistakably there once again, but it did not prevent India from reacting a decent, fighting enough total.
What followed thereafter was a fightrack rarely seen on this tour. The fielding rose to the occasion with some breath taking catches by Kanitkar and Dighe and the side's bowling took up the challenge of dismissing the entire Pakistan team and not just restrict them, which is itself is a most difficult proposition as their batsmen will rather get out than allow the run-rate to go down. In fact, they have invariably in the past perished by the sword.
The most heartening aspect of India's bowling attack was that Anil Kumble, after a long period of futile toil finally looked the match-winning bowler that the team looks up to him to be.
It is no use crying over spilt milk, but a recap at this stage will enable us to see clearly that had Sachin Tendulkar opened the innings in the first two matches, there might have been a different story to tell. As it is, we lost three of the four matches when we had as good a chance of winning as, if not better than, our opponents.
Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly bat with such authority that, if the rivals are unable to break their opening partnership early, they know they would be in trouble. The two complement each other so well as to take stroke-play to a rare height. They thus keep rattling the score-board. Likewise, a cheap dismissal of either of these two means trouble for the Indian team.
A victory at long last and the rekindling of the team's hopes of making the final, might all make for happy tidings. But unfortunately, everything is not yet all hunky dory. The Indian team continues to present a picture of being an animal with the longest tail, that is devoured so easily by the opponents. The middle-order too has to come to term with the bouncy playing surfaces and some top-class pace bowling.
India's hopes of making the final will depend so much on leaving behind these inexplicable failures and overcoming these weakness. The whole team can take inspiration form the brilliant manner in which Tendulkar and Ganguly are batting and laying the foundation of not only a good, but a quick total.