We assign a lot of importance to the dates March 14-15 in Indian Cricket. These dates in 2001, we turned around a test match at Kolkata against the mighty Australians. We not only broke their winning sequence of 16 tests, but we came back from way behind to win a test from near impossible stage after being followed on. This was just the third time it had happened. What is did to World Cricket, is after this Australia refuses follow-on to teams, whatever be the nature of opposition, pitch and time left in the game. Well enough of that now.
I want to assign the date March 17 as the date when ‘Indian Cricket collapsed under the blunder of its own making in the World Cup 2007’. This date in 2007, we not only lost to Bangladesh in a World Cup 2007 game in West Indies. We nearly closed our chances to enter into the knock out stage of the World Cup 2007. Not for the first time it was happening since 1975, as both the first 2 World Cups were most forgettable for India. Again in 1992 in Australia, we had crashed out without entering the knock out stages. But this was a little more special. India had finished runners-up in World Cup 2003. We had performed well in international cricket 2003-04. We then made some major changes. John Wright was replaced by Greg Chappell as the coach, at the end of his term, and Saurav Ganguly was removed as the captain in the favour of Rahul Dravid. I will not go into these details, as we know enough of it already and suffered.
While initially it looked a good ploy as India won 3 ODI series, 2 in India to Sri Lanka and England, and one to Pakistan in Pakistan. But soon the effects started to show up from May 2006. Till March 16, 2007, India had played 24 games winning just 8 of them. Of the 8 wins, 5 wins were against Sri Lanka and West Indies in India just before the World Cup. The other wins was a one-off win against WI in WI where they lost the other 4. A win against WI again in the Malaysia tri-series, where they lost the other games to Australia and one more to WI. A win against England in the ICC Champions Trophy in India. It was still a wasted effort as both teams performed badly in that game, except that India showed lesser inclination to lose than England.
But on the worse side was 4 straight defeats to WI in WI in May-2006. If that was any preparation in WI, a year before the World Cup, it anyway lay all in shambles. Then the defeats in Malaysia tri-series to Australia was almost without a fight. Then the 4 straight losses to South Africa in South Africa. In the last game Dravid took rest and Sehwag lead the team. But in a lost series, what could the replacement captain have done, to prevent the losses. So the portents for India not doing very well back again in West Indies were anyway poor.
I will not assign much importance to the wins against Sri Lanka and WI at home, as India’s weaknesses were all out in the open. Even against Sri Lanka, the one game that they lost on 11-2-2007, the Lankans had taken 16 runs off the last over bowled by Kumble. It must be recorded that Dravid had reserved the last over to be bowled by Kumble. Later India lost by just 5 runs. These 16 runs by Kumble were going to prove costly for him just before the do-or-die game against Sri Lanka on March 23, 2007. But anyways, the Indians broadly were ‘very hopeful that the team would do well’ that World Cup. But I was getting ready for a debacle.
My reasons stemmed from the fact that I had not seen any thing striking in Dravid’s captaincy. He was very laid back and relied more on conservative practices as a captain. So even once in a while we managed to gain some ascendancy in a game or even a series, we would lose that immediately at the next available opportunity. We had won the first test in South Africa in 2006, but managed to lose the next two tests without a fight and lose the series 2-1. We also lost the series in Pakistan 1-0 due to a very bad loss in the Karachi test which had started with a hat-trick by Irfan Pathan. But that was the last thing for India to cheer in that test match.
His captaincy in ODIs even as a replacement to Saurav Ganguly was nothing to talk about. If you remember Saurav would get penalised time and again by referees, and Dravid would come in as a replacement captain. In a 2002 ODI series against WI in India, in the last game at Vijaywada the West Indians were around 180 in 38 overs ended up with 315 runs in the next 12 overs. The reason, Murali Karthik was preserved to bowl in the last 10 overs. Well for batting, Indian batting collapsed and we had lost the game way easily. The point is ‘reserving last few overs for Murali Karthik to bowl’. We now how accomplished bowler he was. We also know, how he managed to get into the team always. But still, the captain had ‘lot of faith in him’. It talks of the faith of the captain. I am not even talking of what harm Chappell would have done to the Indian Cricket, since it was his wish and the mandarins of BCCI to plump for Dravid as a captain.
As India went to the World Cup, I was sure of the Indian debacle. I had kept an element of surprise aside that what this being the last World Cup where Kumble was going to play for India, would spring a surprise. His friend and statemate had after all got a place for him in the World Cup team. I was ready to be surprised but there was a bigger surprise in it for Kumble.
India’s first game was against Bangladesh on March 17, 2007 at Port of Spain, India’s favourite venue in WI historically. On a normal day, India should win 9.9/10 times against Bangladesh, so it was not perceived as a threat perhaps. But this was a different day, a different stage and a different occasion.
Port of Spain is in Surinam, an almost Indian country in WI. Sunny Gavaskar had scripted some fine performances there and India had some great tests in 1970s including a chase of 406/4 to beat the WI and set up a world record.
India won the toss, elected to bat. They were in for a surprise as runs were so difficult to come. First the pace bowlers and spinners made it difficult for India to score runs. India was 40/3 after 15 overs, Sehwag and Sachin both gone, other than Utthappa. As we all know, Indians were bowled out for 191, with only Saurav making 66 and Yuvaraj 47. They put 85 runs for the fifth wicket. Then the next 5 wickets collapsed for another 34 runs. Now these to me are the worst symptoms of a team under a poor captain. The ability to fight gets reduced and the batting becomes the worst victim to it. The Indian batting could collapse any time, but given the past one year,this was a repeat occasion and so frequently that the captaincy does come under a notice.
There was nothing much different as the Indian bowlers also seem to have an off-day. Tamim Iqbal took the Indian bowlers to the cleaners right from the start. He was supported well by by Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib ul Hasan. They also made 50s and made it an easy chase for them. Dravid had brought it Sehwag, when it was almost over. He took 2 wickets. Perhaps getting him early may have made some difference. But his decisions never looked planned. India presented the game to Bangladesh on a platter.
Now this World Cup had a different format. There were only 3 games in the league stage, so a team had to win 2 of the 3 games with a good net run rate to be in with a chance to qualify to the knock-out stages. So India had 2 more games against Bermuda and Sri Lanka and they should have won both with good margins to make it to the next stage. While Bangladesh had already beaten them, Sri Lanka was the next big and tough opposition to be beaten. When they were softened up by Bangladesh what were the chances they could have to beat them in another 6 days. People argued that India had just beaten Sri Lanka at home before the World Cup. But does the last game performance in our own area carry any hint to the next game. That again in a neutral environ outside India and Asia.
There were all sorts of funny calculation the Indians indulged in. But I had held my gun that India was well on its way out.
Same thing happened as predicted. Sri Lanka ended India’s pain in the World Cup by issuing no quarters to the ‘big brother’ of the region, and put the paddle on the guillotine. Just before the game, it was found that statistically Anil Kumble had proved very expensive against the Sri Lankans and was dropped for this game, and Harbhajan came in. Kumble had played the Bermuda game 4 days back and scalped 2 wickets. Thus ended his stint in the World Cup. He was retiring from ODIs after this.
Thus ended India’s campaign in the World Cup 2007. A lot of people still blame the World Cup 2007 schedule as the main reason of India’s exit. But given India’s defeat-struck path to the World Cup and their performances, there in, schedule and format could not be a reason for such a loss. There was a predictable commotion in India over this, everything from the coach to the team was blamed, but no where the captaincy was blamed. We have our strange ways. Chappell was packed off immediately. Dravid continued till September 2007, and tendered his resignation at the end of series defeat in ODI to England 4-3. We are still not sure that he stepped down on his own or Dilip Vengsarkar would have indicted him. At various stages, Vengsarkar as Chief of Selectors had shown his dissatisfaction to this leadership and more so his failure with the bat as a captain. The press had their inputs as they all crowded around Dravid’s house in Bangalore questioning his father for the reasons. It was not fair indeed, but thats how we Indians are. When the son does well, the mother has to hold the mike. Even when the son does not do well, the fathers are pestered with questions.
Thus ended a sordid chapter of Indian Cricket.