Let's begin with the basics: India's loss to South Africa was the first defeat in this edition of the World Cup. And despite this bad hair day, India still top Group B and is certain of a place in the quarter-finals. We could crib and cry and say our three wins in the group came against minnows - but remember what a 'minnow' called Ireland did to England?
- India has amassed 1,405 runs in their five matches so far - thrice batting first and twice chasing. They have taken a total of 44 opposition wickets - bowling out Ireland and Netherlands before 50 overs. Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar (twice) have scored centuries while Gautam Gambhir (twice), Yuvraj Singh (twice) and Virender Sehwag have registered half-centuries in those matches. Yuvraj Singh got a five-wicket haul once during one of those matches. So, appearances to the contrary, we aren't doing too badly after all, in two of the three departments of the game. Our fielding sucks, did you say? Of course it does, and we knew it would when the team was announced. There is nothing much to be done about it - no miracle drugs that will turn a Munaf Patel into an Usain Bolt. So what's the point of endlessly cribbing about this aspect?
- West Indies, second in the Group while I write this, have scored a total of 886 runs in their four games. They are way behind with 33 victims in the wickets column and only Devon Smith has managed to reach the three digit figure in batting. If the West Indies is looking likely for the next round, it is because its bowlers made mincemeat of Bangladesh and the Netherlands.
- South Africa, like India, has had a good tournament so far with total of 1,039 runs in their four matches. However they have bowled out their opposition each time with Imran Tahir and Dale Steyn wrecking havoc. AB de Villiers (twice), Hashim Amla have scored centuries, among other half-centurions but their shocking result against England when chasing 172 runs raises doubts about the solidity, and mental stability, of their middle order. They chased down a stiff target against us in Nagpur, did you say? Consider the flow of play - though India made far less than the 320 that was a par score on a good batting surface, it kept SA on the back foot throughout the chase; it was only in the last over, by a bowler in only his second game after an injury layoff, that SA managed to turn the tables and upset the odds. In sum - we lost to SA, but it was no crushing defeat of the kind that inspires us to beat our breasts.
- England, fourth team pushing for the quarter-final berth, has had a mad World Cup with two wins, two defeats and a tie in their five games - and have Bangladesh breathing down their neck. They received twin blows at the sport's showpiece when star batsman Kevin Pietersen and pacer Stuart Broad were ruled out with injuries - denting their chance of progress further.
So now do the math - why exactly are we moaning about India's weaknesses?
Coming back to the side's performance, the defeat at the hands of South Africa couldn't have come at better time. Not many teams would have survived after what Sehwag and Sachin inflicted on hapless Proteas bowlers; in fact, the best attack in world cricket at the moment was helpless for all of 39.4 overs, and could breathe again only after they saw the back of Tendulkar. Point being, the cup that looks half empty is more than half full; yeah we have a way to go yet, but keep in mind that the competition is still in its preliminary phase.
In the wake of the defeat against the Proteas, we have been moaning about our wafer thin bowling resources - but as pointed out before, those bowlers kept SA in prison almost throughout their innings. Consider especially the first half of each innings: Steyn, Morkel, Kallis and two frontline spinners got absolutely murdered; against that, a line up reading Zaheer, Ashish Nehra and Munaf Patel had the South African top order struggling for runs. If we lost that game, put the blame where it is deserved: a bit of mindless batting at the death, that resulted in nine wickets for 29 runs.
About that collapse: MS Dhoni's point is well taken; the Indian middle order played to the galleries, looking for the big hits. Even if they had only taken singles in the last five overs, they would still have gotten to 325 - and the game would have been ours. Lesson learnt, point taken - so how about we end the breast beating and move on?
Incidentally, when Indian bowlers get taken to the cleaners we cry. Let's face it - none of our bowlers, including Zak, are fast enough in the air to negate the slowness of Indian pitches. And yet they have done a decent job thus far - keep in mind that the likes of Steyn and Morkel were thrashed in Nagpur; that even bowlers like Shaun Tait and Brett Lee struggled the other day against Collins Obuya and Tanmay Mishra.
So, net net, yeah we lost - but the loss has come at just the right time. We know what we are doing right, and where we are going wrong - and learning the lessons now, after we have booked our place in the quarters, is way better than being forced to confront our mistakes in a knock-out game.
So what does the road ahead hold? The Indian think tank needs to fine tune its lineup; it needs to add bite to its bowling attack (and while on this, it needs to stop pampering the Chawlas and play the likes of Ashwin; similarly, if Yusuf Pathan can neither hit hard enough long enough nor bowl 7-8 overs at the least, it needs to consider switching Suresh Raina, the perennial substitute, into the lineup instead).
Dean Jones can say what he likes about India; why though should we Indians be similarly pessimistic? Keep the faith, guys - the real tournament is just beginning.
The views expressed here are of the author and not the ICC.