And so India finished their Super-Eight campaign with an unblemished slate. Three games, three defeats, and the most dismal defence of a title since Sri Lanka were sent packing from the 1999 World Cup, also in England. As for South Africa, eliminated on home soil by the Indians two years ago despite losing just one game, they go into the semi-finals with a perfect record, just like Sri Lanka. Pakistan and West Indies will need to play out of their skins to deny them.
India’s self-destruction at Trent Bridge was almost comical, though the fans who had flocked to the ground despite the meaninglessness of the fixture certainly weren’t amused. From 47 for 0 at the end of the Power Play to 64 for 4 after the next six represented a very steep decline, and when Yusuf Pathan then lofted one tamely to short cover, the end was nigh. The two Singhs, Yuvraj and Harbhajan, tried to go down swinging, but there wasn’t much conviction in the effort.
South Africa’s spinners were exceptional, with Johan Botha taking 3 for 16, and Roelof ven der Merwe finishing with 1 for 13. They were tidy and aggressive, and backed up by typically brilliant fielding. And they could still call on Dale Steyn at the end to finish the job. With Wayne Parnell and the Morkel brothers also part of the pack, and Jacques Kallis due to come back, South Africa will take some stopping.
India bowled far better than they had in previous games, with the spinners choking the life out of South Africa. Like the Indians, South Africa had also made a frantic start, taking 44 from the first five overs. The next eight produced just 27, and the eventual total of 130 owed much to the dazzling skills of AB de Villiers, who struck the ball so cleanly and cleverly during the course of a 51-ball 63.
Once again though, Dhoni did something to raise the odd eyebrow. Having bowled spin for 14 overs on the trot, he opted to give the final over to Zaheer Khan, whose opening burst had once again been disappointing. He went for 11 runs, and India ended up losing by 12. More ammunition for the critics.
Having been embarrassed by the bouncing ball at Lord’s, India’s batsmen were terrible against the turning one as well. Rather than knocking the ball around for singles, too many of them went for the Bollywood stroke, while Dhoni’s charge down the pitch and subsequent run-out will feature in blooper shows for some time to come.
In the weeks to come, many will pinpoint the IPL, fatigue and a million other reasons for this Indian debacle. Ultimately though, the players didn’t appear hungry enough. The way Parnell ran across to deep cover to stop a lofted drive from Rohit was symbolic of how seriously South Africa took this, and it’s no coincidence that they have now won seven T20 games in a row. The IPL may revolutionise the Twenty20 game, but for the moment, it seems to have benefited the foreign contingent as much as the Indians.
Officials can bang a gong all they like about the country’s financial might, but just as the Premiership has taken England no closer to football World Cup glory, the IPL will never be a magic fix for Indian cricket’s problems. Global events are won by the teams that want it badly enough. India weren’t one of them.