In the aftermath of their astonishing collapse and subsequent defeat against South Africa last weekend, India’s World Cup campaign may still be very much alive, if not kicking for the moment.
A 40-minute period of madness was the difference between victory and defeat in Nagpur, though many might argue that even 296 was a total that could have been better defended by a bowling group that is putting far too much pressure on the batting line-up. Zaheer Khan looms as the only potential bowling threat; the left-arm pacer has had to perform both the containing and the wicket-taking roles, what with Harbhajan Singh struggling to pick up wickets.
Barring the disastrous, India will line up in Ahmedabad on March 24 for the quarterfinal against an opponent as yet undecided. From the knockout stage till the title is just three straight victories away. The events of the league phase will have no bearing on performances in the must-win matches, and while confidence and momentum will be important going into that stage, they won’t necessarily be decisive factors. India can ill afford to wish away the Nagpur fiasco, when they lost nine for 29, as just one bad night.
They must learn their lessons from their hare-brained approach during the batting Power Play, and resist the temptation of over-reaching during that five-over period because inevitably, whenever the sights are set too high, disappointment is never too far away.
If India are looking for positives, they can take heart from the fact that despite their numerous travails, they are still perched on top of the ultra-competitive, upset-ridden Group B.
They haven’t fired collectively as a unit, the bowling shining through only sporadically and requiring generous help from the part-time spin of Yuvraj Singh to make its presence felt. Hearteningly, over the last couple of games, India’s fielding has shown signs of turning the corner.
While they will never be the most athletic or dangerous fielding outfit, not with the personnel available right now, India aren’t unaware that a run saved is a run scored, a run-out effected worth its weight in gold. The challenge ahead of Mahendra Singh Dhoni is in getting his team to play to its potential, and to channelise the upsurge of embarrassment and anger emanating from the Nagpur debacle into a gathering maelstrom that sweeps all before it.