Batting aura has to be reclaimed if the team wants to stay ahead in Twenty20

The irony cannot be missed. As a novice, India won the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 in 2007. Now as a squad that has cricketers well-oiled to the demands of the shortest version, the team has pressed the tournament’s eject button, not once but thrice at diverse venues.

England 2009, West Indies 2010 and currently Sri Lanka 2012 have all witnessed early Indian exits. India’s descent has been steady but a linear pattern cannot be found as India’s performance in the ICC World Twenty20’s latest edition was besmirched by just one horror-outing — the match against Australia.

The story was different in England or the West Indies as back then India opened its respective campaigns with two victories and crashed immediately to three consecutive defeats while flailing against short-pitched bowling.

Cut to the present, India made Afghanistan look stronger than it is. Subsequently a commanding performance was dished out against England. Harbhajan Singh’s strong comeback against Stuart Broad’s men, stirred up the Indian attack so much that M.S. Dhoni even dumped his pet four-bowler theme against Australia.

The worry-lines cropped up in that game as first-up the Indians mustered a timid score, and then watched a seven-minute rain-stoppage ruin its three-spinner plan. R. Ashwin, Harbhajan and Piyush Chawla never came to grips with a wet ball and their plight worsened with the murderous intent that Shane Watson and David Warner revealed.

In a strong group within the Super Eights stage, the team had to play catch-up for the rest of its tenure. In the end, the victories against Pakistan and South Africa proved to be feeble self-esteem boosters and the ‘Men in Blue’ returned home in batches on Wednesday. They surely have a few points to ponder.

Right through the tournament, India never got the ideal start and the first wicket invariably fell within the Power Play. A cursory glance at the opening partnerships between Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag in four games and the one between Gambhir and Irfan Pathan against Australia, revealed fragility atop the order. The numbers are damning: 1-15 (2.1 overs); 1-24 (2.4); 1-21 (2.6); 1-1 (0.2); and 1-23 (3.3).

Virat Kohli’s unbeaten 78 against Pakistan and his 40, along with Rohit Sharma’s unbeaten 55 and Gambhir’s 45 against England, were the few batting stints during which India flexed its core strength. More often the onus to whip up a respectable score fell on the lower order and though Suresh Raina did well against South Africa, below-par scores plagued the team against Afghanistan (159 for five), Australia (140 for seven) and South Africa (152 for six). It was a blip that a batting-dependent team just could not afford.

Among the bowlers, Zaheer Khan partly found his zest against Australia and South Africa, but he still looks half the spearhead that he is in Tests. Another senior, Harbhajan, ensured that he is back in the reckoning after his four wickets against England but more work needs to be done. And Ashwin, except for the game against Australia, did well though it defies logic that Dhoni employed him after Rohit in the game against South Africa.

The biggest surprises were the emergence of L. Balaji (nine wickets) and Yuvraj Singh (eight) as the leading wicket-takers for India. Yuvraj the batsman, though, only offered brief glimpses of what he can do when he is at his peak. In the days ahead, India’s batting aura has to be reclaimed if the team wants to stay ahead in Twenty20.

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