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Flop show at Eden

Nasir Jamshed, after his century, on Thursday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh

Calcutta: Nowadays, there’s nothing to write home about when the Indians are playing at home. It doesn’t make a difference whether it’s against England or Pakistan, whether it’s in Tests or ODIs… There’s just not enough steel in this current Indian side and that’s a home truth.

As India succumbed to yet another series loss, the television cameras turned to coach Duncan Fletcher in the dressing room, perched comfortably on his seat. He had dark glasses on, otherwise he could have seen the world champions of yesterday playing schoolboy-cricket.

Pakistan won by 85 runs. To be fair to Fletcher, he didn’t have any role in India’s loss. But then, what exactly is his role? One doubts even Fletcher doesn’t know the answer.

His counterpart, Dav Whatmore, was all smiles and hugs.

When Mahendra Singh Dhoni was fighting it out in the last 10 overs with No.11 Ishant Sharma, one really felt for the man. He is being grilled for India’s poor show, while 10 others are busy collecting their match fees.

It is easy to criticise from outside the field — being too harsh on the players many would say — but it was perhaps far more painful for 60,000-odd spectators at the Eden to watch their favourite team on their knees.

11, 31, 6, 9, 18 — Those are the scores of the top-five of a top side. Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina — more of stars and less of players.

As Dhoni was trying to drag the Indian innings till the 50th over — they were eventually all out for 165 in 48 overs — he seemed like that athlete who had given up a podium-finish to help an injured co-athlete to the finishing line. He had fought a singular battle in Chennai, and he did a similar thing here as well. That was in a losing cause, so was this one.

The captain remained unbeaten on 54, but courtesy his team, he was very much a beaten man.

Henceforth, the confusion shouldn’t be over whether to play six batsmen or seven… Given a choice, one assumes Dhoni would go for 11 batsmen!

A lean patch is not unusual in sport, but a prolonged one indicates something is seriously wrong.

We also need to ponder why we can’t produce anyone like the 23-year-old Junaid Khan, who led the Pakistan bowling with aplomb. Pace, swing, line and length — Junaid seemed a worthy successor to the distinguished history of Pakistan pace bowling. He was the best bowler of the day and was much better than his figures of 3/39 suggests.

Then, compare this: Saeed Ajmal — 10-1-20-3; Ravichandran Ashwin — 10-0-49-1. It’s easy to understand why Pakistan won the match.

In the morning, with the sun taking a day off, it was supposed to be field day for the swing bowlers. The overcast condition, however unwelcome at this time of the year, was something that made Dhoni happy when we won the toss. Bowling first was an easy decision to take.

But as Bhuvneswar ‘swing’ Kumar failed, the Indian looked like the weather — dull.

Nasir Jamshed and Mohammed Hafeez, the Pakistani openers, were beaten by the Indian bowlers. But such lotteries were few and far between.

That Jamshed and Hafeez were both dropped when they offered chances, made the Indians toil harder on Thursday. By the time India got their first wicket, Pakistan were 141 runs strong.

Hafeez is a busy man, contributing regularly both with the bat and ball. His 76-run innings off 74 balls on Thursday was a pretty smart innings.

But then, with Pakistan at play, anything can be expected. And from 141 without loss in the 24th over, they were all out for 250 in 48.3 overs.

Jamshed stood out in the rubble with 106 runs. The two sixes that the left-handed opener hit off Dinda — one a pull and the other straight down the throat of the sightscreen — reminded one of Saeed Anwar’s flair. Interestingly, Jamshed has three one-day centuries now, all three coming against the Indians.

As for the Indian bowling, Ishant (3/34) bowled a refreshingly tight line while Jadeja (3/41), the part-timer, did better than his full-time compatriots.

Pakistan, nowadays, are used to hosting home series in neutral venues. In Eden, they have found a home away from home. They now have 4-0 record in ODIs versus India at the Eden. One wonders if 4-0 is becoming too familiar a number for us.