One more game, in Nottingham on Tuesday, and the Indian cricket team – not to mention a massive media entourage – will be heading home. By the time new champions are crowned at Lord’s next Sunday, the erstwhile champions will be back home, wondering just how they made such a pig’s ear of the title defence. Sloppy in the defeat to West Indies on Friday, they were too clever for their own good on Sunday, messing up a run chase in the face of sustained short-pitched bowling from a disciplined English attack. That they got so close in the end merely highlighted the failure of their tactics, and opened up a whole new can of what-ifs.
Yusuf Pathan scored off every ball he faced to finish with 33 from 17 balls, while MS Dhoni ended the game unbeaten on 30 from 20 balls. By the time Yusuf came to the crease though, 67 were needed from six overs. Yuvraj Singh had faced a similar situation, walking out with 92 required from 57 balls. Why had it come to that? With Yuvraj in such prime form, was there really a need to send Ravindra Jadeja up the order, especially when the 20-year-old had played just one ODI and two T20 games for India? In a crunch game, why would you back a new boy over an old hand?
As it was, Jadeja struggled horribly, barely middling a ball in an innings of 25 from 35 balls that sent the asking-rate soaring. Gautam Gambhir too was far from fluent, cramped for room by balls directed at the body and eventually forced into a half-hearted paddle that went straight to short fine leg. Yuvraj slammed the first ball he faced for six, and then hit one more, but James Foster’s dazzling glovework ended any thoughts of a Durban-like six barrage.
India’s bowling had been similarly ineffectual until the spinners came on. Kevin Pietersen batted with real majesty for his 46 and with Ravi Bopara rotating the strike, a massive total appeared to be on the cards. But Jadeja’s quicker deliveries and accuracy stemmed the tide, while Harbhajan chipped in with more wickets at the end. What proved costly though were the extras, 16 of them, including two attempted yorkers from Harbhajan that only took the leg-side route to the rope past Dhoni’s gloves.
On such slipshod moments are games won and lost. Later, Dhoni called the decision to promote Jadeja a gamble that failed to pay off. But why gamble at all when you have the most destructive batsman in the side pencilled in at No.4? The history of sport is littered with examples of teams that tried to over-complicate the game and fell short. You can add India to that list now. Clever is good, too clever is not. And while England march on to a winner-take-all contest against West Indies, India can pack their bags. Champions no more.