Bowling continues to be Team India's weakest link

Bowling continues to be Team India's weakest link

Ishants patchy form a big let down

Bowling continues to be Team India's weakest link

Virat Kohli with an unbeaten 79 steered India to win on Wednesday. AFP

India’s first unsuccessful run in a 50-over jaunt for more than 12 months owed itself to an unenviable mix of ordinary cricket in one match and interference by the elements in another. In a format of this nature, one off-day and one wash-out mean curtains, no matter whether you are ranked number one in the world or merely propping up the foot of the rankings table.

Given the eternal Indian trend of kicking the cricket team when it is out, if not necessarily down, it is no surprise that another early exit from the Champions Trophy has triggered knee-jerk reactions. One loss, one wash-out and one win in three games is not a poor record; the muted response here to overwhelming favourites and hosts South Africa crashing out at the first stage therefore comes as a refreshing deviation from the norm.

Fickle life

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is quickly finding out how fickle life can be as captain of the Indian cricket team. For all his wonderful record at the helm, Dhoni has twice in the last four months failed to take the team to the knockout stage of major world events, enough for his critics to start crying hoarse.

Great teams and individuals attain greatness not because of one isolated flash of brilliance or one extraordinary run in a global event. Tiger Woods hasn’t won a major for over 12 months now, but is still the top dog in the golfing world because of his sheer consistency. Dinara Safina hasn’t so much as sniffed Grand Slam success, yet she is perched on top of the WTA rankings because outside of the Slams, she has had tremendous results.

That, too, is the case with the Indian cricket team. In the complex world of the ICC one-day rankings, you don’t climb to the top of the charts twice inside a week if you are anything but consistent. The rankings take into account performances over the last two years in different conditions and situations, with commensurate ranking points for results against opponents ranked above and below you.

In the last 13 months, India have scored bilateral series wins in Sri Lanka (twice), New Zealand and the West Indies, thumped England 5-0 at home and ended a tournament drought with success in the tri-series in Colombo a fortnight back.

How all that can be swept away in the emotional aftermath of one defeat – which was what proved decisive in the Champions Trophy – to Pakistan is difficult to comprehend.

That said, it must be remembered too that starting with the 2006 Champions Trophy at home, the Indians have failed to make the semifinals of four of the last five ICC events. Much of that ordinary record owes itself to poor bowling, oftentimes papered over by India’s muscular batting – four times in the last ten games alone, India have conceded upwards of 300 runs.

Dhoni will be the first to admit India played poorly against their traditional rivals, failing to find their groove in their first match of the competition. The bowlers’ inability to adapt quickly to match conditions in Centurion that were so drastically different from practice conditions in Johannesburg brought with it the ultimate penalty. The chance to redeem themselves against Australia snatched away by the elements, India desperately and eventually unsuccessfully hoped against hope for Pakistan to stop Australia and pull them along to the semifinal.

Biggest letdown

The biggest letdown of the tour was Ishant Sharma. Let alone the tyro who terrorised Ricky Ponting and hustled Michael Clarke in Australia 20 months back, the Delhi quick has struggled to find his bearings, his pace having dropped significantly and his length way too short to offer a threat.

How well he is managed over the next couple of months, and how the team and the support staff rally around him in his moment of obvious lack of self-confidence, will determine how quickly he bounces back. Ishant is a rare precious commodity in Indian cricket, an out-and-out pace bowler. In a lot of ways, his form will play a significant role in India’s fortunes in the future, so it is imperative that he is nursed back to his imperious best.