Winning is supposed to be a habit. By the same token, so too must be losing.
That is perhaps the only way to make sense of India’s inexplicable and bizarre batting collapse in the fourth One Day International against Australia at Canberra on Wednesday. For close to three-quarters of the chase they strolled – nay, absolutely cruised. Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan were purring along like a Rolls Royce on a Dubai highway. With only 72 runs off 75 balls required and nine wickets in hand, India looked like they would reach their target of 349 in some style.
But what happened next shocked everyone. Dhawan holed out and then the rest of the batting order had a spontaneous meltdown. Kohli, MS Dhoni, Ajinkya Rahane, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Rishi Dhawan – in the blur of a few overs, everyone trooped in and just as quickly trooped back to the pavillion. Just like that, Australia were cock-a-hoop, celebrating a 25-run win which barely seemed possible half an hour earlier.
So what exactly happened? The only possible explanation is that India have forgotten how to win. Just like how Australian teams are traditionally so used to winning that they unfailingly conjure up victory from the most unlikely positions, India have become used to the opposite. They last won against Australia in Australia in almost four years ago. Even against a third-string Australian bowling attack and on the flattest of pitches, this is a team which just does not believe it can win against the Baggy Greens anymore.
This was reflected in Wednesday's performance. The minute Australia found an opening, they forced the door open. The Indian team, befuddled and bemused by their recent losses, froze in the headlights. Rash shots were played when singles and doubles could have done the job far more easily. And suddenly, a pitch on which Dhawan and Kohli had never looked like getting out started playing tricks on the hapless Indian batsmen.
Common sense out the window
Mahendra Singh Dhoni heroically declared after the game that it was his wicket that sparked the turnaround, but this was one of those occasions when the blame cannot fall solely on the captain alone. Apart from Rahane who picked up an injury, what were the other lower-order batsmen doing? Gurkeerat Singh Mann and Rishi Dhawan may be short on experience, but they also seemed to lack common sense – why else would they go for massive hits when the run rate was hardly threatening? And why on earth was Umesh Yadav, someone who has played more than 50 ODIs in Indian colours, trying to slog every ball out of the ground when he could have easily turned over the strike to the more accomplished Ravindra Jadeja at the other end?
It betrays a startling lack of common sense within this Indian cricket team and raises serious questions about their hunger. Apart from Virat Kohli and to an extent, Rohit Sharma, does any other Indian cricketer have the stomach for a fight anymore? Or are overseas games to be treated as an unnecessary irritant, to be pushed out of the way as quickly as possible before normal service can resume in the comforts of friendly Indian surfaces?
Before this game, team director Ravi Shastri sagely said that despite being down 3-0 in the series, he could actually see “improvement” in the bowlers. Dhoni carried on in a similar vein after the game, saying that they would take the “positives” from this game. From the perspective of the long-suffering Indian cricket fan though, the only positive to take away is this: only one more ODI and the misery is over.
Fourth ODI result: Australia (348/8 in 50 overs) beat India (323 all out in 49.2 overs) by 25 runs.