The Indian team's fortunes Down Under continued to follow a downward graph. In the third match at Sydney, against Australia, it plummeted to the bottom-most level imaginable. In contrast, the side's bowling, especially that of Javagal Srinath, rose several notches to make early inroads into the Australian batting to suggest that if given a reasonable total to fall back, it could nearly work miracles.
Three down and three to go, the chances of India making it to the final of the triangular one-day series now appear to be near-impossible. Only a miracle can help them to make it. And indeed, only a miracle can help people, some critics included, to change their opinion that Sachin Tendulkar is no great shakes as a captain and that coach Kapil Dev has so far been managing the team more with his tongue than the grey matter inside his head, or the genius of his bygone days as a player.
A logical analysis of the ongoing dismal performances of the Indian team is difficult because most of the leading players have shown what they are capable of in flashes, but only in flashes, mind you. The whole team cannot just put its act together. While the side's bowling has risen several points above what was expected from it, the batting has acquired an indescribable brittle quality about it.
One does not wish it to be so, but are there any cracks in the relations between members of the team or in the top hierarchy of the team management?
Look at the way Saurav Ganguly got out in the second one-dayer at Melbourne. There can be no doubt that he was absolutely brilliant and, probably, played his best knock on the tour so far. But his ambition of getting to his century appeared greater than the prime need of the side to make an earnest effort to push towards victory, that so much depended on him.
Even if he was tired, as he should have been, playing the long innings, the manner of his getting out cannot ever be condoned. The casual manner in which he tried to reach the crease suggested that he was quite content in having completed his century. At that unguarded moment, he, quite frankly, forgot his responsibilities as a senior member of the side, and the vice-captain at that.
Had that single been at the point of his reaching the century, he would have dived, lunged or done anything to reach the crease. Even otherwise, he was within achieving that but he committed the cardinal error of not grounding his bat. It is inconceivable that a player of his experience and standing in international cricket should be so lacking in the basics of batsmanship.
At Sydney on Friday, the Indian team's display graduated from the humiliating to the embarrassing. The hopes of the side's batting acquiring greater ability with the move to have Tendulkar back in his more effective position as opener came unstuck.
There was nothing wrong as such in the skipper reverting to his favourite batting position, it is just that it was less than a completely confident Tendulkar who faced his bogey man Glenn Mcgrath. This cheap dismissal should not deter him from batting at the top of the order.
If any side is bowled out for just 100 runs, whatever the nature of the wicket, it must perforce write finis to their hopes of ever winning that match. It, however, speaks volumes for the quality of the Indian bowling, with Javagal Srinath, in particular, showing tremendous grit and determination.
To have one of the strongest, if not the strongest, batting sides totter in the chase of a beggarly three-figure target indeed was a rare sight. Srinath's superb line-and-length bowling, not to mention his subtle away-movement, helped India make early inroads into the Australian batting bastion. Every member of the Indian team must have rued the fact that they did not, in their combined effort, give their master bowler a few runs more.
If the Indian team had frittered away sure chances of victory in the first two matches, one each against Pakistan and Australia, there wasn't the faintest hope of the visitors ever avoiding defeat at Sydney.
The poor performances of the Indian team so far must bring into question not only Tendulkar's captaincy but also the role played by Kapil Dev as a coach. Whoever had decided to promote an inexperienced Sameer Dighe to the crucial no.3 spot at Melbourne in the first encounter against Australia did not render a great service either to Indian cricket or to the Mumbai wicket-keeper, who replaced Nayan Mongia at the behest of the team management.
Where does the Indian team go from here? Can it win the remaining three matches to give itself a chance of making it to the final?
A Sharjah-type situation, just a couple of years ago, has been reached Down Under. India had to win the last three matches on the trot to qualify for the final then and Tendulkar had played a dream knock in the face of a desert storm (literally) to achieve the impossible. The desert fox then, however, was a man called Ajay Jadeja, who had shown rare qualities of leadership.
Oh for Ajay Jadeja, now that the Indian team is faced with a similar situation Down Under. Whatever the outcome of the remaining matches, the talking point in cricket circles will indeed be whether the cares of captaincy, particularly when things are not going well for the team, are not affecting the master-blaster's performance as a batsman. Would it not be a wiser move to have Jadeja back as captain, especially in the shorter version of the game?