METRO PLUS

Bitter slip between the Cup and the lip

True to its name, in ''Wanderers'' India lost its way. The whole nation prayed for their victory, but prayers are not answered unless the players perform. Steve Waugh spoke of the last frontier when he came with the all conquering Aussies to India. Though he could not do it, Sourav's 'sena' had its chance to reach the last frontier against the Aussies 'army' to use the metaphor of war with a meaningless Iraqi war going on.

When Sourav won the toss, we should have batted first particularly as the wickets till the final suited the fast bowlers. Of the triumvirate only Javgal Srinath is an old war horse while the other two are still new to the high pressure that a World Cup final generates.

Had India batted first and put up a reasonable score of 250 odd, then certainly the pressure on Zaheer Khan, Nehra and even Javgal Srinath would not have been that great. The opening over of Zaheer clearly showed that he was a bundle of nerves, and realising that, a great deal was expected from him, but overawed by the situation he lost both his length and line and then in the succeeding overs we lost our way mid-way through.

The absence of the fifth bowler was keenly felt and one would not expect that in a World Cup final irregulars like Shewag, Mongia and Yuvraj would bowl long spells. The Aussies' weakness against spinners is known and, perhaps, the most seasoned campaigner, Anil Kumble, would have been an asset and bowling in tandem with the ''turbanator'', as the Aussies called Harbajhan Singh, would have posed a threat to Damien Martyn and Ponting.

The Aussies play the game at three levels - mental, physical and psychological - and that is where sheer professionalism matters, and around the time the score reached 200, India looked a lost side and to use the current coin, their body language indicated a loss of confidence.

Even the way they moved on the field indicated that all was lost, and Ponting was allowed to flourish. In other words, as a result of the onslaught of Ponting, the team lost the confidence that it regained in its run up to finals.

The Aussies' side although had an unbeaten record was not unbeatable. Steve Waugh, Gillespie and Shane Warne were not there and in three matches before the final Australia escaped defeat narrowly. New Zealand and England proved that Australia could be beaten, and in contrast India's march to the finals was resounding. Thus the psychological advantage was allowed to be lost by the pressure of Australia being invincible and that weighed too heavily with the Indian team. Even after the Aussies posed an almost unreachable total, still India could have made a match out of it.

If India regained its confidence before the matches the credit should go to two persons: Sachin for his masterly performance and Javgal Srinath for inspiring his two young medium pace colleagues, but then the master failed in the final. Like the rest of the world I also admire Sachin, a true icon, but yet he should also have kept in mind that with a formidable total he needed to stay there more so when an irrepressible Shewag was showing caution which was alien to his nature.

Yet while it is true that a blistering attack to pulverise the Aussie fast bowling was needed, still shot selection should have been more appropriate, and impelled by that urge in a moment of weakness Sachin perished. One should not be blamed for pointing an accusing finger at the master but he was to give the lead as he had done in the earlier matches and at this stage, Dravid should have come to take the sting out of the Aussies who already tasted the kill with the scalp of Sachin, but instead Sourav came and batted as if he was playing the last five overs. The way he heaved at every ball although he was lucky to belt a few balls indicated that he believed that attack was the best form to reach the winning post. He should not have forgotten that discretion is the better part of valour, and a few moments later he committed hara-kiri by playing a stroke that a captain should not have played in that situation. Shewag, Dravid and Yuvaraj showed that the Aussies bowling could be tackled with judicious shot selection. But it was a case of too little a bit too late. A total of 230 odd clearly showed that if only Sachin and Sourav played with more caution we could have reached the 300 mark. In the end all was lost, though we might have the satisfaction that after a forgettable New Zealand debacle, we regained our confidence and improved match after match.

After India's none too convincing win against Kenya in the initial round, still we reached the summit. We failed to post our flag there. All cricket lovers are proud of the remarkable

transformation in the confidence level of the team and its successful march to the semifinal. We might say that though we were beaten we are not disgraced. That is not a consolation.

We reached the top rightly and deservedly but then there was the slip between the cup and the lip. That is where toughness is required and the Australia's 11 minus three greats proved what toughness and professionalism meant and that fire in the belly was required.

Therefore, the cup that could have been in our grasp was lost. Year 2007 is far away but by then Srinath and Kumble would not be around, and it is time we look for good allrounders for the absence of the fifth bowler that was keenly felt in the final. Hope springs eternally in the human breast. For a diehard fan like me and for millions of others, this slip between the cup and the lip is indeed bitter. I have a hope like our esteemed President who talks of dreams. Let us hope that our dreams become a reality at least in 2007.

But in the meantime, the Pepsi ad., wherein Sourav and his team get frightened at the lion and say ''arre yar, sher hai'', makes me feel that 'kangaroo' became the 'lion' on March 23 shattered our dreams and took the cup away from us.

D.V. SUBBA RAO

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