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Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Billion hopes sink at the World Cup

March 23, 2007 would rank as probably the worst date in Indian cricketing history, when they discovered that the team would be virtually out of the World Cup after playing just 3 games in the tournament. The chances of Bermuda beating Bangladesh, even though not impossible, looks improbable. That just means that the Indian team can take the long flight back to India, having played just one game against the top-8 sides in the World. Is the tournament format skewed? Maybe. But, that doesnt justify a team to nurture hopes after losing to Bangladesh (9th ranked) or Ireland (relevant to Pakistan's cause).

What happened on the day? It started off well for the Indian's cause when Rahul Dravid won the toss. His bowlers backed him up early in the innings, with some good swing bowling. It was probably a bad day at the office for the umpires - Aleem Dar, Daryl Harper - two of the best in the game. Clear lbw shouts were turned down against Agarkar, Zaheer and Munaf. Sri Lanka were not able to turn on the scoring rate, but chugged along merrily. It was the partnership between Dilshan and Chamara Silva that took the match away from the Indians. Dilshan seems to be in the league of players like Chanderpaul, Younis Khan, Jayasuriya - who score heavily against the Indians most of the time. And then the cameos of Arnold and Vaas ensured that the Indians had to chase in excess of 250. Here, more than the bowling the field placing was to be blamed. The batsmen could take singles at mercy and there was no way in which the fielders could stop them, given their placements within the circle.

Rahul Dravid could have been more innovative with his fielders, in hindsight though. Then, it was the turn of the batsmen. Robin Uthappa was looking good, watching the ball carefully and playing on merit mainly - before starting off his strokeplay. In fact, he had managed to infuriate Vaas with his shots (that could be seen in the mouthful given to Robin on his dismissal). But it was the reflex catch that Vaas took, which stunned the Indian team. Sourav Ganguly had been playing steadily (without scoring many runs), when he was joined by Viru Sehwag. Sehwag had come back into form and showed a continuance of the same. He was finding the gaps on the fields and the scoreboard was ticking along well, when Sourav went for a bold stroke. It was uncalled for, at the given point of time.

Sachin was dismissed by a good delivery, as was Dhoni. They had no option but to "START WALKING". Rahul Dravid and Sehwag had a good partnership where the runs started ticking at a good rate, when Murali stuck with his round-of-the-wicket bowling. This was probably the most crucial strike of the Indian innings. This ensured that Dravid was left alone at the crease, battling a lone war against the Lankans. Yuvraj was run out by his captain's known talent of spotting the wrong run. And the rest was history.

On hindsight, the Indians did not look like having a plan to execute. Or if they had one, it was not executed properly. Someone had to keep out Vaas and Murali - the best players would have been Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid at the positions they occupied. If these two were tackled, the rest of the bowling would have been easier. It was interesting to note that Murali went for 9 runs in his first over against Sehwag in the Powerplay (Murali has mentioned recently that he doesnt like bowling in the Powerplay). But, on his return, the batsmen went into a shell against him and probably gave him more respect than due.

What does the future hold for India? Greg Chappell might be sacked - because of the poor performance of the team. Rahul Dravid will step down from captaincy, if not removed. Sourav Ganguly can make a comeback to be the captain of the team again. Sachin Tendulkar should retire from ODIs - it is high time he did that. But, will all this happen? Time only will tell. There is also a possiblity of some players from the Indian team being dragged into the Bob Woolmer controversy - based on calls made by a suspect.
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