Kind of awful, no? For whatever reason, though, I hadn’t expected India to win this time around, if only because lightning doesn’t strike twice in the Twenty20 version. The team also didn’t seem as settled or threatening as they were in 2007. I’m sure their long IPL stints and Sehwag’s absence did not help.
I’m also sure Dhoni’s captaincy will receive a fair amount of criticism. For a few years now, Dhoni has enjoyed a charmed life in the Indian media, which has generally hailed the man’s calm demeanor, “versatile” batting and innovative tactics. I think Dhoni understood he could afford to lose certain things — the Asia Cup, for instance, or the Twenty20s against New Zealand — without provoking too much fuss, as long as he won the big things (Australia, Pakistan, home series).
But I doubt he’ll get away with a Super 8 loss in the World Cup. A semi-final loss would have been more palatable, but those muted concerns about his Chennai Super Kings IPL defeat may grow louder now. I’m not sure why. He couldn’t foresee Sehwag’s injury and while Rohit Sharma more than adequately filled the hole, he left another one in the middle-order which, for whatever reason, Dhoni couldn’t plug himself.
As for Ravindra Jadeja coming in at No. 4, I’d say Jadeja did amazing things in the IPL for the Rajasthan Royals and could have easily done the same against England. It’s important to remember Dhoni has previously put in new players in pressure situations, like Joginder Sharma and Praveen Kumar, whom he used to telling effect against the Australians and in the South African Twenty20. (He also won much praise for the move.) So, who knows? Perhaps he hoped the English would be thrown off at the sight of Jadeja rather than Singh. Even if it didn’t pan out, I don’t think it’s a hanging offense for a captain.
Why did India lose then? I can only think of two reasons, one ancient and one novel: first, India’s longtime batting bugaboo — the fast-paced short ball — returned to haunt the team’s ribs. Say what you want about this new Indian team and its overseas victories, but it is still at the end of the day an Indian team, brought up on Indian wickets and Indian spinners. On the other hand, it’s a young team and I sincerely believe defeats will help it more than victories at this point. Keep your eyes on the prize: the 2011 ODI World Cup.
Secondly, Twenty20 shows no mercy to established teams. I read some diagnoses of Australia’s recent failures in the format, but none of them was particularly convincing. I still share Ricky Ponting’s own bemusement. He said he did everything right; his players have all the talent; his team should have won. Why didn’t they? Who knows? This is the nature of the beast: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Indian fans should note their team won the last Twenty20 cup by the barest of margins against a team I still don’t think deserved to reach that far.
And even now, Sri Lanka — one of the best teams still in the running — may not reach the semi-finals, even though it has won every match played. The final should be SL v. SA, and SA should win (for once). But it may just as well be England v. New Zealand. This isn’t to say some teams aren’t better than others, or that Twenty20 doesn’t reward merit. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it just doesn’t. Fickle format, as they say.