The Champions Trophy experience of Team India in South Africa was like one of those dreams that build up to the point of heightened excitement and then vanish without a trace. The Indians came and went before one could say ‘Mahendra Singh Dhoni’!
Their loss to Pakistan in their very first outing crushed most of their hopes of making it to the semis, and the rained off Tie against the Australians also looked like a losing cause the way the match was progressing when the heavens opened up. India did salvage some respect with their comprehensive victory against the second-string West Indians in their last appearance of the International Cricket Council’s second-most prestigious event. That England and New Zealand made it to the Semi Finals, along with Australia and Pakistan is a pointer to the fact that even other top teams like South Africa and Sri Lanka could not find their feet in the tournament, a la India.
The following are the main factors that led to India’s quick exit from the ICC Champions Trophy 2009-
1. Lack of preparation-
It might seem odd to bring up lack of practice as one of the main reasons for the dismal performance of the Indians who play so much international cricket nowadays. However, it is a fact that after their end-of- the-season break, the Indians played just three games in Sri Lanka, under conditions that were quite different from those in South Africa, and thereafter lost their only practice match before the big event to the Kiwis.
Even though each of the Indian players had played many a match earlier this year in the Indian Players League (IPL) in the same country, the Indians looked all at sea in the 50 overs version and surely needed more time to acclimatize.
2. Pace Bowling out of depth-
One of the key areas in which India has improved in recent times, under the watchful eye of Venkatesh Prasad, is the pace bowling department. In the Champions Trophy however, key bowlers like RP Singh and Ishant Sharma were found badly wanting, with their line and length being really awry. Ashish Nehra and Praveen Kumar did display some skill with the new ball, but it was too little and too late. The Indians were just unable to restrict free scoring batsmen like Shoaib Malik, Yousuf Mohammed and Michael Hussey, and did not manage to bowl to a plan at all.
3. Harbhajan not at his best-
The mercurial offie, Harbhajan Singh was rather out-of-sorts in the two main matches that India played. Coming off a successful tri-series in Sri Lanka, he was expected to lead from the front, but he was just unable to bowl consistently and to his field. It is a known fact that once Harbhajan starts weaving his magic, India is almost unstoppable, but CT-2009 was not to be the wily Sardar’s stage and nor was it team India’s! Harbhajan’s expensive returns meant that the other bowlers too struggled to contain the marauding opposition batsmen.
4. Missing Champions-
Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan are such a force to reckon with in any form of cricket that in their absence Team India itself was badly wounded even before a ball was played in the event. Even the presence of greats like Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid could not uplift the morale of the depleted squad. The explosive six-hitting capabilities of Sehwag and Yuvraj were missed no end as was the ability of Khan to inspire the pace attack with his own gritty performances. That Yuvraj and Zaheer were present in the stands to watch the matches must have made Dhoni look wistfully in their direction whenever things were going wrong on the field!
5. Lack of imagination-
The normally vibrant Indian think tank was a bit staid in its approach to the key encounter against Pakistan. With the ball doing a bit on South African pitches and against a potent bowling attack like Pakistan’s, the emphasis could have been to see off the new-ball and preserve wickets for the final onslaught during the chase. Once Gautam Gambhir’s sparkling knock was ended by a run out, and with Tendulkar having fallen early, the Indians looked out of depth. Dravid’s experience and Suresh Raina’s bravado did provide some hope, but it was a bit too much for them to chase a score of over 300 in the given situation. In the field too, Dhoni tried his best to marshal his limited resources effectively, but both against Pakistan and Australia, the bowling was totally unimaginative.
6. Off-the-field happenings-
As was the case before the ICC World T-20 in England this summer, the Indians had to contend with off-the-field occurrences that were beyond their control. Gary Kirsten was understandably furious and hurt at certain leaks from an internal team-document and the players too must have carried some of the burden of their coach’s angst on to the field. Indian cricket’s handling of media relations in recent years has seemed unprofessional at best and horrid at worst. Major tournaments are tough to win in any case and thus the captain, the coach and the players need to focus more on the matches than on extraneous factors if they are to succeed in doing so!