India lacks the fire to win

Written by: S K Sham
Published: Friday, January 21, 2000, 0:00 [IST]
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By now, the Indian cricket team must have become the best side in the world to escape to defeat.

No matter what the players and the team management evolve by way of a plan, its execution is just down the beaten track. The end result is an inevitable defeat. Friday's beating at the hands of Pakistan had all the markings of earlier defeats.

The will to win, or the fire within to fight to the bitter end, appears to have been snuffed out of this side, which has been reduced to the desperate state of looking for any kind of victory from any quarters on the current tour Down Under.

The defeat to Pakistan by 31 runs on Friday at Hobart may have ended India's hopes of making the triangular one-day series. Australia has won four of their five matches so far, and Pakistan three from the same number. For India, it was their fourth straight defeat.

Theoretically, the Indian team may still have a rare outside chance of making it to the final. They have to win all the remaining four matches and also hope for Pakistan to win no more. Going by the Indian team's dismal performances so far, this may appear to be a mere pipe dream.

The fervent hope of the team and the countrymen of seeing Sachin Tendulkar back to his best batting form at last came to fruition, but the wonderful innings withered just when the much-sought-after success was within achievable limits.

Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly gave India a flying and confident start. As if to prove that it is indeed the best opening pair in the world in this form of cricket, the pair carried on until just a run short of the three-figure opening stand.

During that period the Pakistani attack, considered for its tremendous pace and variety as the best in the game, looked innocuous. For the first time, the Indian batsmen were to take the best possible advantage of the field restrictions of the first 15 overs. But then, as soon as Tendulkar was out to a veritable beauty bowled by the Man of the Match Abdul Razzaq, the middle-order crumbled all too familiarly.

Rahul Dravid, who only until a few months was on top of the world as the leading scorer in both forms of the game, was once again the despair of the Indian team.

Dravid appears to have fallen into a rut from where he is reluctant to play his natural strokes. It was this very reason that had cost him a place in the limited-overs side. His omission, however, had spurred him to adopt a whole new approach to batting in the shorter version of the game and he had made a great success of it, being the highest scorer in the last World Cup in England.

For a batsman so good of technique and strokeplay, this could only be a passing phase. But then, India's challenge will have ended by the time he gets back to his high-scoring days.

As in the first two matches, so in Friday's game, India had done enough initially to be able to win the match. While the Pakistanis had shot their bolt in the last 10 overs, the Indian start was swift and yet classical. The asking rate of around 5.4 had not looked at all imposing as Tendulkar and Ganguly batted. Runs were flowing freely from their bats.

The dismissal of both these batsmen may have been untimely, but not so disturbing as to make India go off course on their victory target. In the end, it was once again the brittle middle-order that let the side down.

On closer analysis, it was when the team was in the field that it did quite a bit of damage to its cause. Apart from the fact that far too many runs were given away in the death overs, there were two discernible blunders commited by Sachin Tendulkar.

One knows that Tendulkar, as a captain, is a very meticulous person on the field and sets his field to the minutest detail. All this is fine when you are within your over-rate. But when he sensed that the Pakistanis were going to set a target in excess of 250, and the team was way behind on the over-rate, he should have hurried along so as not to incur the penalty.

The Indian team was eventually docked two overs (they were permitted to face only 48 overs) for slow over-rate. This built extra psychological pressure on the team while batting. It did make the task of the Pakistanis so much easier. At the final fling, two overs can mean a lot of runs.

Tendulkar's calculation of distribution of each of the leading bowlers' quotas too was faulty. When three overs remained to be bowled, his main bowlers had completed their quotas and Tendulkar himself had to fill in, with Ganguly and Rabin Singh. Certainly not the best way to plug the flow of runs.

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