MS Dhoni (right) © Getty Images
MS Dhoni (right) © Getty Images

 

By Avinash Iyer

 

The last time I stayed up two nights in a row without bothering to catch a few winks in between was when I was studying for my 3rd year exams. That was 10 years back. Today, as I attempted to do the same thing again, with not much difficulty, I am struck by Andrew Strauss‘ answer in the post-match conference to the question: “Are you happy?”

 

Am I happy? Of course! After a week of minnow bashing, the prospect of two non-minnow clashes over the weekend was too good an opportunity to miss. Neither game disappointed. Pakistan played an inspired game of cricket, trying everything they could possibly do to win, and succeeding big time. Sri Lanka fought bravely, but weren’t able to do enough, but they did everything they could and failed.

 

Am I happy? Hell, yes! India was playing England, Sachin Tendulkar scored a century, our batting clicked as expected, and despite a forgettable last five overs, we did post our second successive 320+ score. Certainly good enough target for a woefully out of form England?

 

Am I happy? Definitely! I got to see a wonderful match, see-sawing through the second innings. About as spectator-friendly a game of cricket can get, and well… among other things, I am spectator burning the midnight oil for a good game of cricket. So, the game did make every minute I was awake fully worth it.

 

So, am I happy? Err… I dunno. Which England team has ever chased 340 in the subcontinent in recent times? When did England last have a world-beating team in the 50 over version? In 1992, if I remember correctly. So, how did they manage to tie the game?

 

So, am I happy? Absolutely not, because India did not win a game it should have easily won. Yes, our bowling sucked. Yes the fielding is as good as Navjot Sidhu’s dress sense, but we have been like that for a long time. When was the last time we had a bowling attack not comprising of Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh? When was the last time we played with Yuvraj Singh not being part of the fifth bowler? In the era of Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath. And since then, especially in the last four years, we have scripted many a fine victory with reasonable consistency. To be very frank, the quality (and personnel) of our bowling, since the debacle of 2007, has not really changed. Neither has the quality (and personnel) of the fielding.

 

So, how is it that we performed like the Canadian team? The answer in my opinion is just three words: Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

 

He may be a very good captain, perhaps the best India has had in a while, but whatever made him all of that was probably locked up in the private safe of India Cements in a top secret vault somewhere in Chennai. Throughout the 50 overs of the chase, he showed no intent to make things happen. He seemed to have forgotten that Plan B or Plan C needs to be executed if plan A fails. For all you know, he probably did not have a plan B. There were no close-in fielders to stop the singles, no trap set in the deep to invite Strauss/Ian Bell to take the aerial route, and most of all, why were people like Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli not given the ball when all else failed? He never had issues trying all that out before.

 

On top of that, two genuine nicks went unnoticed. Shahid Afridi and Kamran Akmal were appealing for everything under the sun yesterday, but our fearless leader went amnesic about the art of appealing. He was content to let events take their own course, and he got incredibly lucky that England seemed to be as intent in losing as he was. So soon, the game turned into a battle for who will lose rather than a charge for victory. The game will go into the records as a tie, but in my opinion, India lost. Dhoni lost. Not because the team played badly, but because after a certain point, he showed no intent to win.

 

So, what has changed? He is still a good captain, but I sense a major complacency element creeping in. His post-match comment about no hope for improvements in the fielding department gave a good insight on how overconfident he is. Home grounds, strong batting, crowd support all add up to him probably taking the team and the game for granted.

 

So, what happens with my happiness? Yes, it still exists! I am happy that this happened in the league stages of the tournament and not in the elimination stage. I am happy that there is still enough time to correct mistakes. I only hope that Dhoni grabs this with both his hands and starts the process of correction right away. And finally, I am happy because I can finally sleep after two days, secure with the knowledge that cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties and ultimately it will turn out to be the winner in this tournament – sorry can’t resist a Shastriism when an opportunity arises! 

 

(Avinash Iyer is a Director in a software company in Canada and an avid cricket fan, a legacy he inherited from his dad. In between indulging in software-giri and braving the awful cold weather here, he soaks in cricket. Cricket statistics stick in his memory more easily than the menu at last night’s dinner. Loves the traditional game of Test cricket)