So India – barring a near-impossible Bermudan victory over Bangladesh – are out of the 2007 World Cup just three games into a possible 11. The group stages were supposed to be a procession for the elite eight; yet, the Super Eight game expected to feature India against Pakistan now pits Bangladesh against Ireland.
India’s performances against the two other Test-playing nations in their group have been woeful – especially from their much-feted batsmen. All the batsmen have been guilty of severe lapses of concentration; they fundamentally seemed incapable of playing a more patient game on less facile batting tracks. The honourable exception against Sri Lanka, until desperation overtook him, was skipper Rahul Dravid, who displayed the adaptability and nous to amass a fine 60.
Headlines, inevitably, will fall on Sachin Tendulkar. As he came out to bat, with his side teetering at 43/2, Cricinfo asked: “Is this going to be the defining moment?” Three balls later, we knew the answer: he was bowled by the impressive Dilhara Fernando for nought. Whatever Tendulkar does in the remainder of his extraordinary career, he is destined to be remembered as a player who too seldom produced his majestic batting when his country most needed it.
The contrast between the two sides in the field was unavoidable. Sri Lanka were vibrant and hungry; India cumbersome, and their bowlers guilty of conceding 16 wides and no balls. The fielding should have been no surprise, though, given this has long been a source of concern for an ageing Indian side. In ODIs, they cannot continue to play all three of Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly; they are 33, 34 and 34 and it is unlikely even one will feature in the next World Cup.
If batting was expected to be India’s chief strength, spin bowling was not far behind. As it transpired, Harbhajan Singh was ineffectual, as he has been in one-day cricket for some time now, and offered very little wicket-taking threat in the middle of the innings. It was hard to understand why the wily Anil Kumble had been left out, especially given Singh’s poor showing against Bangladesh.
India’s seam bowling was better than some had feared, although no one emerged with their figures unscathed from the latter stages of the innings. In the rehabilitated Zaheer Zhan, India have a solid left-arm seamer; if both Munaf Patel and Sri Sreesanth can confirm their initial promise, pace bowling will emerge as an unlikely strength.
Most frustrating of all for Indian fans is the knowledge that they succeeded in repeating all their mistakes in getting thrashed 4-1 in the West Indies less than a year ago. In ODI cricket at least, India will soon have to let go of their golden generation – Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Kumble. As they look to the future, they must focus on reinvigorating Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh, as they appear to have done successfully with Khan. These men, along with Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Yuvrag Singh, Patel and Sreesanth, ought to form the core of the 2011 World Cup side. But that is little solace to Indian fans now.