The first week of the World Cup has been a mixed bag. In many ways, the cricket has been as expected. But who would have imagined India and Sri Lanka to fare so poorly as to be pushed to the brink?
The expected part has been the influence of the weather and wickets, and the dominance of ball over bat. Batting isn't easy in England, and hazardous for those who can't cope with swing and seam movement. As it's early summer, the movement has been pronounced, leading to the glut of wides.
Pre-tournament favourite South Africa and dark horses New Zealand are virtually certain of Super Six berths. The Proteas have shown awesome bowling resilience, but I still think the most dangerous side is Pakistan, with their brilliant batting potential and depth and variety in bowling. The manner in which they wriggled out of a corner against the Windies shows their determination.
The big disappointments are undoubtedly India and Sri Lanka. The Lankans were completely out of their depth. I suspect their main players are not as energetic or as hungry for success as in '96 and unless Ranatunga can inspire a revival like never before, we'll see a new champion side this time.
As I write this, it seems unlikely that'll be India. Two defeats have exposed the players as brittle - in the mind and on the field. Both games were close, but I have no sympathy for a side that doesn't know how to win. Cricket isn't only about creating opportunities, but also exploiting them. India, loaded with talent, flattered to deceive.
What appalled me was the lack of cricketing sense in their approach in both games. There seemed to be no concrete gameplan, the captaincy lacked dynamism and imagination, the bowling and fielding were untidy, and sadly, there seemed to be more personal rather than team interest at stake. Against South Africa, the batsmen lost the advantage in the last 15 overs. The fact that Ganguly was nearing his ton made him cautious, but this is where a player has to rise above his own gain and think of the team. This isn't as simple as it sounds, for you might tend to lose sight of it in the heat of battle. The captain should step in then with advice or even harsh words. India was poised for 275 after the Ganguly-Dravid partnership, but failed to shift gears to finish 20-odd short to let the rival back into the tie.
The rousing manner in which the Proteas finished it off offered some lessons, but I wonder whether anyone in the Indian side was willing to learn. In the next game, the fundamental errors increased. I have never seen a side concede 51 extras. And nobody kept a watch on the clock to compound the misery with a four-over penalty that increased the pressure on batsmen, what with Tendulkar having had to fly home.
It seemed neither side wanted to win. The batting, bowling and fielding by both sides were mediocre but the climax was exciting. India succumbed as they couldn't stop blundering. Every time it seemed they had the match under control, somebody would play a shot of dubious ambition or aggression and bring Zimbabwe back into it.
The foolishness of this approach was evident to all save the Indian batsmen. To Indian fans at Leicester, the methods of the batsmen were inexplicable and suicidal. But my reading was they were looking for a one-shot passage to glory; everybody seemed intent on becoming a hero.
That isn't sensible cricket and some of them ended up looking like king-size zeros. The solution may be to give ear-pieces to six or seven players with remote control from the dressing room, but even that's no guarantee for success.