The fact that India's victory over Zimbabwe in the final one-dayer of the preliminary part of the triangular tournament in South Africa has given rise to such jubilation is in itself a cause for alarm. The last time there was such jubilation it was because India had beaten South Africa in the final of a one-day triangular tournament. There is much to be learnt from this.
Zimbabwe was a team which Indian used to beat with monotonous regularity. They would promise much along the way and then, finally, give in. In short, they used to play similar cricket to what they have played against South Africa in this very tournament. In all three of their matches, they did threaten to cause an upset and then were beaten back by a team which dug deep into its resources and found a man who could meet the needs of the hour.
Zimbabwe have improved -- of that there is no doubt. Basically, they have come to believe they can hold their own with the others, they have come to believe that they can match wits at the highest level and come out on top. They do not look like no-hopers anymore. They play the game as though their livelihood depends on it -- and for a good many, this is not the case.
The sad truth is that India has not moved with the other teams which have improved by leaps and bounds. The Indian team looks shoddy in the field. It cuts a sorry figure most of the time and the same batsmen have to click in order that the team performs well. If India has come to stage when a win over Zimbabwe is greeted with such jubilation, the team needs to indulge in a great deal of introspection to find out what has gone wrong with it.
On the bowling front, there is total dependence on Srinath and Prasad. Nobody even thought of Joshi until the crunch match. Then he proved that there were others who could do something with the ball as well. Tendulkar tends to have very fixed ideas on the field and no captain who operated this way was a great success. The element of surprise is needed; being predictable never won anyone a one-day tournament.
Much has been said about Tendulkar's innings. He deserves all the praise; one shot, a straight driven six off Brandes, showed his class. But he must also be wondering -- if he had failed, would India have stood a chance? Jadeja was lucky to be dropped by Whittall else India's tail would have been exposed. And this was before he brought down the scoring rate to a manageable one.
So, in reality, a number of problems remain. One victory will not wipe off what has been accumulated over the tour. If anything, it only makes it more difficult to tackle as the team would now be on a high and unable to focus on the real reasons for their poor showing on tour.
Many teams have gone on a tour of the West Indies and come back as though they did not know what hit them. There are other teams which go to the Caribbean and come back with their reputations enhanced. A lot depends on how the West Indies regroup after their poor show Down Under. India's next stop will show whether the team has overcome the lack of self-belief it has shown in South Africa. If it has, the team should be able to give a decent account of itself. Else, one may well hear the old calypso "captain, the ship is sinking", ring out again.