When the captain and coach got it all wrong

For all the experiments by Dhoni and Fletcher, they could not get the team balance right.

Isn’t a record of four wins out of five matches impressive? Not really, when two of those wins were a shaky performance against Afghanistan and an inconsequential league game against England. Not being able to finish in the top two in a four-team group will be counted as India's failure.

The inability to qualify for the World Twenty20 semifinals has put a question mark on the effectiveness of MS Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher. Since the two got together, success away from home has eluded the team. Their only claim to fame can be the West Indies Test series win in 2011.

Since then, India were routed in England and Australia, failed to make the finals of the one-day Tri-series in Australia and the Asia Cup in Dhaka. The debacle here has added insult to injury. The two are regarded among the shrewdest brains in cricket but have failed to click.  

Leadership slump
Dhoni is a pale shadow of what he was during his partnership with Gary Kirsten, and the T20 event in Sri Lanka is the latest example. In a format where one mistake can cost you the game, India failed to find a settled combination right till their exit.

For all the experiments by Dhoni and Fletcher, they could not get the team balance right. They remained in a dilemma over whether to pick a six batsmen-five bowler combination or play seven batsmen and four bowlers, and whether to play three pacers or an extra spinner.

Once the England batsmen floundered against spin, India fielded the same combination of five bowlers against Australia. It didn't reflect well on the tactical acumen of the captain and the coach. The strategy seemed to be based more on the hope that ‘what worked against England will work against Australia’.

One wondered if they took into account the fact that Shane Watson, David Warner and Mike Hussey were adept at playing spin on slow wickets due to their Indian Premier League stints.

There are bowling units for whom the opponents and conditions may not matter, but rating the Indian attack among them is wishful thinking, and thus the key lies in selecting horses for courses.

Dropping Virender Sehwag for Piyush Chawla was loaded with risk and it was the Australia game in the final analysis that sounded the death knell for India. They came back to win their next two Super Eights games but could not recover the ground conceded against Watson and Warner. The only time India looked to have got the combination right was against Pakistan and it reflected in the result.

No change
If one thought wiser sense had finally prevailed, against South Africa the captain went in with an unchanged line-up. The three-pacer theory has often worked against Pakistan but it was surprising to see Dhoni use the combination against the Proteas.

And that too on a wicket where, minutes earlier, Pakistan had strangled Australia with spinners, not bowling their pacer till the 18th over.

Shoddy showing
In the end, despite the four wins, it was a shoddy performance, the prime example being the win over Afghanistan.

It was a torturous batting show with the batsmen edgy and nervous. They were only made to look good because of the poor catching by the inexperienced Afghans.

Dhoni at least has the cushion of his previous record, but for Fletcher, the signs are not good. The duo needs to get its, and the team's, act together, and fast.