Each time we have lost a match in the last year and a half - and we know there have been so many of those that we are losing track - our captain MS Dhoni has blamed the batting or bowling, depending on which one fared worse on the day. Occasionally he has pointed out the other obvious thing, that we are a team in transition. Not once has he put his hand up and admitted that he picked the wrong eleven from the players available, or that at least in hindsight he realises he chose the less favourable option after winning the toss.
Dhoni has a lot going for him as a leader, but somebody who keeps passing the buck is going to lose the respect of his team, and then it becomes much harder to make that extra collective effort for a win.
Take the second ODI against Pakistan at Kolkata on Thursday. After losing half the side for less than 30 on a grassy wicket with an early morning start in the previous game at Chennai, it was almost a given that India would bowl first if they won the toss at Kolkata.
Like in Chennai, there had been overnight rain and the sky was overcast, but there the similarity ended. The game began at noon, the pitch was dry and there was no live grass on it. As it turned out, the pitch did not play very differently from what it has done in the last couple of IPL seasons. There was tennis-ball-like bounce for the seamers, and grip for the spinners, making strokeplay difficult. In fact, the best time for batting was right at the start, when the ball came on to the bat a little more than it did later. The Pakistani openers were the only ones to score freely on it. The second half of the Pakistan innings was quite similar to the Indian innings, with batsmen struggling to time the ball.
If Dhoni was hoping for dew to help the side batting second, as it has done in the past, that was a miscalculation too. It’s only around 9pm, when the pitch and outfield get sufficiently wet, that the ball starts skidding. With the start of the match having been advanced to noon instead of the usual 2.30pm for day-nighters, there wasn’t enough time for the dew to take full effect. On the contrary, the first bit of dew on the wicket freshened it up just a tad for the seamers to get more movement off it. No doubt the Pakistani seamers are way more skillful than ours, but they bowled in more favourable conditions too. Perhaps we would have lost the match anyway, but the Indian coach and captain did the team no favours by letting Pakistan bat first.
Was this predictable or simply wisdom in hindsight? At least two former captains are on record for having said before a single ball was bowled in the match that a knee-jerk reaction to Chennai would be a mistake. Krishnamachari Srikkanth had said even before the teams arrived in Kolkata that the early dew would help the bowlers more than the batsmen, and India should bat first because of the noon start. And the Prince of Kolkata, Sourav Ganguly, said on the morning of the match that he suspected it would be an advantage to bat first even though he expected the captain winning the toss to choose bowling because of what had happened in Chennai. Ganguly did get a few things wrong in his own time as a captain, but on this occasion on his home ground at the Eden Gardens, he was dead right. If only Dhoni had been listening.