Every time the Indian One-Day International (ODI) team steps into the field of play, it has a 50 per cent chance of losing. Of course, this probability theory does not take tied matches into account; only winning or losing.
Thus it was not much of a surprise when India lost the first ODI to Sri Lanka in Dharmasala on Sunday.
But what certainly came as an absolute blow was the poor energy level displayed by bowlers and fielders. Intensity, which has been the hallmark of Indian teams this season, was conspicuous by its absence. And this was the clincher in the low-scoring game.
Contrast this with the amazing energy levels so apparent during the course of that spectacular victory over New Zealand in the truncated Twenty20 International (T20I) at Thiruvananthapuram just last month.
That game was a series-decider as both teams were locked 1-1. The match was reduced to 8 overs-a-side owing to rains. India, put in to bat, had spluttered to 67 for 5, a target eminently reachable by the strong Kiwi batting line-up.
However, the Indian team that turned up to defend the small target fielded and bowled like tigers. There were two superb run-outs, brilliant catches, outstanding ground fielding and magnificent bowling that turned a probable defeat, and loss of series, to a superb six-run win. Right through, what stood out was the amazing high energy levels of the Indian team.
It was as if their ever-expanding aura had diminished the Kiwis’ will to win.
Coach Ravi Shastri had made a number of pertinent points after that game. “67 was not a match-winning score. But if you field well and start well, the pressure is on the opposition. Bumrah showed outstanding temperament. He's shown he's got all the tools of the trade. But importantly, what he's shown is that he's a thinking bowler. Low-scoring games like this can change in the matter of 2-3 balls. We thought we could defend the low target. Our boys saved the best for last in terms of fielding. There was electricity on the field.”
It was precisely that ‘electricity’ that was lacking in Dharamsala on Sunday. In fact, the team failed to lift itself and looked decidedly flat as the match progressed.
The first instinct was to pass this off as a case of burnout wherein the players had nothing left to offer. Their energy levels had been sucked out by a long home series and their moving around lifelessly, like zombies, was probably due to that.
But a closer look at the playing eleven banished any such thought. Barring two or three players, all the others had played little top-level cricket over the past few weeks and were therefore mentally and physically fresh. However, this freshness was not evident even when the team batted.
Instead of being relaxed and primed for battle, they panicked when asked to bat first on a fresh pitch. Not a single top or middle-order batsman, barring Mahendra Singh Dhoni, showed any signs of wanting to stay on a juicy track.
Dinesh Karthik, Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey not only showed horrendous technique but also came across as batsmen who had zilch confidence to play the seaming deliveries. All three got out to awful strokes against the seaming ball; strokes which would have made TV commentator and former batting maestro Sunil Gavaskar cringe in disbelief.
Openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan had already shown that they were all at sea against the moving ball. Their ineptitude at the top would most probably have caused jitters for the batsmen to follow.
At one stage it looked like India, who were 29 for 7, would be all out within a total of 50 runs. Dhoni alone showed the pluck and the determination to weather the storm. The final total of 112 was solely because of his fighting qualities.
On another day, India probably would have made a fist of it. But not on Sunday. The three fast bowlers were good only in patches. Jasprit Bumrah, probably disturbed by tragic news on the home front, was not his usual self. Even the generally dependable Bhuvaneshwar Kumar looked bereft of ideas. Hardik Pandya was a bigger disappointment. He leaked runs even on a helpful pitch.
Skipper Rohit Sharma’s set-piece moves despite his fast bowlers being out of sorts was a letdown. Perhaps he could have been more imaginative by using Yuzvendra Chahal or Kuldeep Yadav for their shock value. Pertinently, if he did not have confidence in their bowling ability on this track, why didn’t he opt for another pacer instead?
Importantly, he should ask himself if he is a leader or a manager? No, their roles are not the same. And this Indian team needs a leader, not a manager.