Gautam Gambhir’s innings was devoid of his usual fluency © Getty Images

 

By Vincent Sunder

 

Many a movie, Indian and foreign as well, have portrayed this scene. The protagonist is involved in a fight, either in boxing ring or on the street, and is almost thrashed to death. Just as the end seems near, there is a dramatic change.

 

Either it is the protagonist’s parent egging him to fight or his love lady screaming or some divine intervention. The scene will end with the protagonist miraculously finding the strength needed to demolish his opponent. The script writer is in complete command and ensures he/she plays to the gallery and comes out a winner.

 

India had gotten off to a dream start. At the end of over 17, the score read 140 without loss at a run-rate of 8.23. More importantly, the South Africans looked completely demoralized. Virender Sehwag had looked more dominant with 72 off 63 balls, but a sublime Sachin Tendulkar was in a higher gear, having made 59 off just 40 balls – this against a pace attack comprising Dale Steyn, Mornie Morkel and Jacques Kallis.

 

When Sehwag departed in the 18th over, the stage appeared to be set for a big Indian total, and the numbers even went as high as 400.  A side fancied by the media as favorites had indeed started this game all guns blazing. South Africa, the other favorite to win this World Cup and with good and better reasons as well, seemed down and out. Graeme Smith looked crestfallen.

 

Some South African friends on Twitter had even switched off their TV sets in disgust. That Smith opted for the second bowling Powerplay when both batsmen were in a murderous mood was a point of thought at that state.

 

Much of the blame for the defeat has been laid at the batting collapse – nine wickets crashing in a heap for 29 runs. Batsmen strode in, fizzled out.   Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Yusuf Pathan, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Ashish Nehra were out playing attacking or airy shots, Virat Kohli pushed one back gently to the bowler while Munaf Patel was clueless to the first ball he got – an implosion of the much-vaunted batting line-up.

 

More significantly, the boxer who had been smashed to pulp, lying bloodied on the floor and gasping for oxygen at over 18 was now up on his feet and dancing with delight and confidence.

 

While the collapse was a result, what was the cause of that? Steyn’s spell?  Probably. His five wickets included Harbhajan and then Nehra and Munaf off successive deliveries. What else caused it?

 

The second wicket partnership lasted 22 overs of which 15 overs got 58 runs – a single of two overs, two runs from one over, four runs each off six overs, and five runs each of six overs. Coming in the light of the blistering and demoralizing start, this partnership realized 125 runs off 22 overs at 5.68 rpo.

 

There have been voices suggesting Gambhir should be replaced by the more agile Suresh Raina who is also a quick-scoring batsman and who can turn his arm over for a few overs. Gambhir had 128 runs from four games coming into this game. For a batsman who generally is positive and aggressive, and also rated as one of the best in the country against spin bowling, Gambhir struggled for the most part of his innings.

 

The fluency was missing as he defended, jabbed, tucked and got the occasional boundary.  As the partnership for the second wicket progressed, one pondered if we were losing on the fabulous start provided. The posts on the Internet forums and Tweets offer proof of this concern.

 

Gambhir clearly looked like a player consolidating his position in the side with a good score.  That was the honest impression, which only was reinforced by a conversation with two former first-class cricketers who simply expressed disgust over the approach in the middle.

 

Where is the need for ‘consolidation’ when the opponent was already down and almost out? Why go by the middle-overs with cautious game play, when the opponent was gasping to stay alive? India missed a golden opportunity by not forcing the run rate in that crucial phase.

 

Australia got to 125 for two in the 20th over in the 2003 World Cup finals against India, and there was no looking back as they plundered the Indians for 359 runs.  They got 172 for the first wicket in 23 overs and ensured they ran off with the game getting 281 runs off 38 overs in a curtailed game. That’s the way of true champions, not pretenders to the throne.

 

Did the lower order fail and made us lose the game? There certainly is a valid point for the utter brain freeze and the resultant failures. Was the batting order being changed a reason? That is another debate altogether.

 

More than a defeat, which in the ultimate analysis does not matter in as far as qualifying for the last eight is concerned, there were more losses from this game. The psyche of the likes of Kohli and Pathan must be severely dented. They now have a couple of failures against their names. South Africa could have been completely demoralized and been made to fight for the last eight spot, but they are on track with a morale-boosting win from a point of no hope.

 

As for India, as things stand, the chances will brighten tremendously if the World Cup finals were to be advanced by a day from the originally scheduled date of April 2!

 

(Vincent Sunder aspired to play Test cricket, but had to struggle to play ‘gully’ cricket! He managed a league side to title triumph in the KSCA tournaments. He was debarred from umpiring in the gully games after he once appealed vociferously for a caught-behind decision when officiating as an umpire! After two decades in the corporate sector, he became an entrepreneur with the objective of being able to see cricket matches on working days as well.  Vincent gets his ‘high’ from cricket books and cricket videos and discussing cricket)