Under the scanner

Under the scanner

So, India have bowed out early again after another shambolic performance at the World T20. It was at this event that Mahendra Singh Dhoni was catapulted to cult status when the Jharkhandi, in his very first assignment as the national captain, guided India to the title triumph in the inaugural edition in South Africa.

Less than three years after his greatest hour of glory, Dhoni is facing the biggest scrutiny of his cricketing career yet following his team’s failure to move beyond the Super Eights of the competition.

The exit from the Caribbean, their second successive Super Eights whitewash in less than a year of this tournament, has thrown up several questions. Their weakness against the rising ball was apparent and is being discussed and dissected extensively, but in the din of this issue, one shouldn’t lose sight of other problems.
India’s fast bowling depth, or rather the lack of it, was on full view, their fielding standards and running between the wickets were pedestrian and the less aid about the fitness levels of some of the players, the better.

The fitness issue is obviously linked to the 45-day Indian Premier League that closely preceded the World T20. The question was posed to Dhoni after each defeat and the skipper kept saying that the IPL had nothing to do with their performance. The right-hander was pilloried for not admitting that the IPL had sapped the players of their energies ahead of an important international assignment.

With the final rites done on the field after Sri Lanka drove in the final nail in their coffin, the post-mortem began in right earnest and more questions on the IPL’s adverse affects were inevitable. So when Dhoni finally admitted that the Indian T20 league can be quite tiring because of what goes along with it, he was accused of giving a lame excuse. Damned if you agree and damned if you don’t.

The IPL is, without a doubt, an intense tournament and as Anil Kumble pointed out in one of his syndicated columns, the pressure on the players from the franchisees is more than when they appear for the country. Strange as it might sound, there has to be some truth to it. But to put the entire blame at the doorstep of the IPL would be running away from facts.

If the same logic were to be applied, then Australia, with as many as eight players who turned up for various IPL teams in their World T20 squad, too should have been drained out. Instead, they are making mincemeat of their opponents. And it’s the IPL players -- Michael Hussey, Shane Watson, David Warner, Dirk Nannes and Cameron White, among others – who have been their key performers in the Caribbean.

One has to admit that India weren’t simply good enough on the field, both tactically and technically. Just over a fortnight ago, Dhoni was hailed for his out-of-the-box thinking when he set up Kieron Pollard’s dismissal in the IPL final against the Mumbai Indians. In the Caribbean, though, Dhoni’s strategies and team combinations came unstuck. Admittedly he had very few options, but his handling of the limited resources found few takers. Usually calm even in the face of the sternest test, Dhoni appeared flustered when things didn’t go his way.

Of course, the rising ball did them in again and it’s a weakness most teams in the world with a medium-pacer worth his salt will look to exploit at the slightest hint of an opportunity. The inadequacy, Dhoni pointed out, was the result of the system back home that didn’t encourage quality fast bowling. “We come from a place where we don’t have bowlers who bowl at 145-150 kmph consistently, and most of the wickets don’t have that kind of bounce,” Dhoni reasoned out. 

It might be argued that we have players like Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman who are the products of the same system and good players of the short ball as well. But as well as the triumvirate plays the rising delivery, they are adept at leaving it alone also, a luxury they can afford in Tests and to an extent in one-dayers. But in a T20 match, there is little scope for playing dot balls.

If you duck or leave alone even two deliveries, the pressure on the batsman mounts at a rapid pace. “It’s not rocket science,” said Dhoni about playing the short-pitched balls. “But in T20, if you consistently get short-pitched balls, the problem is you can’t leave too many balls and if you do, there’s a pressure to score.

Point taken, but then why is it that only Indian batsmen are targeted with bouncers? Obviously, rival teams have figured out their chink; unless the batsmen equip themselves with the technique to handle it, they -- and by extension the team -- will continue to be embarrassed.

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