Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Why did India lose to South Africa?

India squandered a great opportunity to beat South Africa in South Africa in the recently concluded Test series. After the terrific win in the first test of the series, most fans would have harboured hopes of a rare away series victory for India. Although I had alluded to the possibility of a bounce-back by South Africa, it still is disappointing to see India go down the way she did.

The result was certainly not a bad one for India. The team can hold its head high amidst the clamour around them. Acheiving (even) a test match win outside India has always been hard for this team. They are now doing it reasonably regularly. What they do not yet have is that killer instinct that takes them from winning one match to winning a series. Every now and then, they take their foot off the pedal and allow the opponent back into the game. The team has to learn from this and move on.

In the 3rd test, there were a few reasons for India's loss. I will try and list them out here:

India did not put enough runs on the board in the first innings:
  • I know it is stating the obvious, but that was the start of India's problems. India was about 50 runs short in the 1st innings. These runs could have been made easily.
  • India was in a terrific position, thanks to the terrific start by openers, Dinesh Karthik and Wasim Jaffer. Dinesh Karthik was given out wrongly by the umpires who progressed from there to have a shocker of a test match. Even so, the rest of the batsmen should have capitalised on that wonder start. However, none of them, barring Ganguly and Sehwag really showed intent to get on top of the bowlers.
  • After starting off with a basket of crisply hit boundaries, Dravid lapsed into a sudden and almost inexplicable shell. It was almost as if he said to himself, "Why am I hitting all these boundaries when all we want to do is draw the match?"
  • Tendulkar scratched around for a well made 66, but always kept South Africa in the game as he did it. Similarly Laxman. The intent to dominate the bowling was just not there. Perhaps team India had decided right then that it did not want to win the match?
  • After playing himself into form with a clever 40 runs, Sehwag then threw it all away with a rash stroke against debutant Harris.
  • Ganguly, who was well-set at that point, then proceeded to not farm the strike. Perhaps he had way too much confidence in the tail that he had to bat with.
  • All of this leads me to think that one of the key issues for India going forward is to drive home the importance of being situation-aware.
Positive playing by South Africa
  • Right through the game, South Africa played positively. They played with intent. They wanted to win. They showed that hunger.
  • In the first innings, Smith and Amla played well and applied themselves to the task (winning) stoically. They had a plan and they went about it.
  • Even when they were 6 down for 281, Boucher and Pollock batted positively to ensure that India's lead was never too much.
Second Innings batting by India
  • Apart from the intent demonstrated by sending Sehwag to open, India did not really show any willingness to take the game to the opposition.
  • Sehwag was a disappointment as an opener. After hitting a crisp four, he lashed out weakly and needlessly at a wide ball. He let the team down and showed that his problems are all of his own making. It is in his mind and he needs to have a deep, hard look at himself.
  • Apart from Ganguly and Karthik none of the batsmen really showed self-belief. And that's where the team was let down. Every ball was made out to be a wicket-taking ball. When Ganguly and Karthik were playing, the same balls were made out to be run-scoring balls.
  • Self-belief was constantly replaced by self-doubt.

Basic cricketing hygiene:

  • What surprised me most was the lack of overall hygiene.
  • Given that we have two people at the top (Chappell and Dravid) who are somewhat consumed by process and not results, this lack of hygiene was most surprising.
  • For example, should Munaf Patel have been chosen at all? The coach and captain should have been on top of that, surely? He was clearly labouring even in the 1st innings and could barely bowl in the second dig.
  • The running between wickets was somewhat woeful. Witness the run outs of Laxman and Zaheer Khan. Laxman's run out would have cost India at least 30 runs. Zaheer had Karthik at the other end who was batting like a dream. Zaheer's run out cost India at least 30 runs.
  • The ground fielding was embarassing. This cost India at least 40 runs in the match.
  • One can blame the umpires for Munaf Patel's dismissal in the 7th ball of Steyn's over! However, that is outside the team's control. Basic cricketing hygiene is well within the team's control. The coach and captain take the rap for this, I'm afraid...
Put all of the above together and what we get is a rather sorry tale. India can do better in its international outings. But before any chest-thumping, India must pay attention to three basic things (a) winning mindset, (b) situation-awareness and (c) basic cricketing hygiene.

Without these there is little hope of India doing well anywhere -- even in India!

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