It was more of an advantage to bowl first at Port-of-Spain than at the other Caribbean grounds. In Jamaica or St Lucia, the bowlers might have brought India back into the game. Not so in Trinidad where the pitch flattened out so much during the day that there was little left for the Indians by the time it was their turn to bowl, and Bangladesh only had their own nerves to overcome to chase down the target of 191. After all, it was on this ground that India reached a world record target of 404 to win a Test match against Clive Lloyd’s team.
So if Dravid meant what he said in response to a query at a pre-match press conference that he wasn’t looking at the pitches, he was letting the Indian team down. To ignore the effects of an early 9:30 a.m. start on these pitches relaid for the World Cup under the supervision of that dangerous West Indian fast bowler of yore, Andy Roberts, which I described in First clues to the pitches and Give the first 10 overs to the bowlers, was an exposure of the poor thought, preparation and decision-making that characterises the ‘Chappell-n-Dravid way’. Remember how they allowed a struggling England to level a Test series in India by needlessly going in to the final match with five bowlers, and making the batting vulnerable?
It’s another matter that India should have been good enough to beat Bangladesh under any conditions. The point is the failure of a captain and coach to take advantage of winning the toss even after having the opportunity of observing the conditions over four days of World Cup cricket before their turn came. It took less time than that for the Kiwi captain to figure out that he had to send England in to bat. The Bangla skipper too was quite clear that he would have opted to bowl if he had won the toss.
And it wasn’t just the toss. To insist on opening with an out-of-form, low-in-confidence, technical-flaws-exposed Virender Sehwag, instead of going for the stability of Tendulkar or Dravid himself to join Sourav at the top in these conditions is more fundamental. I was pleasantly surprised when I heard talk some time before the World Cup that Sehwag would be sent back to the middle order, because I felt he would be dangerous on these small Caribbean grounds against the slow bowlers. Then they picked him for the World Cup at Dravid’s insistence and I thought ‘Hey, these guys have got it!’ That evaporated quickly when Vengsarkar revealed in an interview that the selectors had gone along with Dravid on the understanding that Sehwag was going as an opener. The rot runs deep. [More on this in What to do with Sehwag]