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Indian cricket's malaise

The embarrassing exit from the World Twenty20 after three successive defeats in the Super Eights stretched India's dismal record in the ICC's global tournaments. Barring the triumph in the inaugural edition of the World Twenty20 in 2007, India hasn't reached the semi-finals of a global event (the World Cup, the Champions Trophy, and the World Twenty20) since its run to the final of the 2003 World Cup. The manner of the most recent debacle is particularly worrying. Tactical naïveté, an inflexible and defensive mindset, and sloppy execution marred India's campaign in the West Indies. The out-cricket, an excellent barometer of a side's hunger and confidence, revealed all. The fielding was lethargic, often tragicomic, and the running between the wickets had neither the urgency nor the nous required at this level. Coach Gary Kirsten's damning statement that the side lacked fitness and commitment confirmed the magnitude of the problem. It did nothing to dispute the view that some members of the team had nothing left for their country after giving their all for their franchises in the IPL.

Every facet of India's game bore signs of the malaise. The bowling lacked penetration. It didn't help that M.S. Dhoni appeared to have no confidence in the other options in the squad, and even less confidence in his batsmen, which forced a notional strengthening of the batting line-up and a corresponding weakening of the bowling unit. The most striking aspect of the letdown, however, was the batsmen's capitulation when confronted by short-pitched bowling at high pace. It's an old failing, one that was exploited during the last World Twenty20 where India failed to win a Super Eight game. It's also a highly visible failing: a bowler dismissing a batsman with a bouncer is seen as an act of emasculation. The ability to attack the rising ball distinguishes the very fine batsman from the merely good and it appears that the present generation of Indian batsmen is merely good, nowhere near the quality, calibre, and mental strength of the seniors who took Indian cricket to new heights. The problem with the short ball is deep-rooted: there's nothing during a young batsman's development in India that prepares him for such an attack, and only the very best — an 18-year-old Sachin Tendulkar in Perth, for instance — can adjust immediately at the next level. That the nature of pitches needs attention from the administrators has been said often but there still is no observable action. Also in need of attention is scheduling — the off-season has disappeared as has the break between assignments; with no time for reflection and skill development, is it reasonable to expect improvement?

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