‘Aftermouth’ better describes the feeling on the morning of a day after watching India go down to defeat in a second successive World Cup semifinal and a night of drowning sorrows in the company of friends. A note on trying to drown sorrows: Don’t. The damn things can swim like Johnny Weissmuller.

At some time during the wake, the company split into two groups: fans who argued it was “one of those things”, and rationalists who argued that we lost because we were an ordinary team in champion’s clothing. I was going to compile a lot of the points the second group made last night, but it turns out Sambit Bal saved me the trouble. Two points Sambit made that found echoes in our booze-drenched conversation:

“A moment as poignant as any. The finish hadn’t been memorable, but it will always be a memory, an aching one, yet defining, because he had played the innings that had represented the final leg of his career. Battling, workmanlike, poised, and yet full of dot balls, with a solitary four and a last-gasp six. He had kept India alive, in the company of Ravindra Jadeja playing the innings of his life, but had failed to haul them over the line when all depended on him. His performance will divide Indian opinion tomorrow and in days to come.

From 71 for 5 and then 92 for 6, India would have sunk rapidly without his steadying hand, and yet, despite the 59-ball 77 from Jadeja, the run rate had mounted to over 15 when Jadeja was dismissed. To that 116-partnership, Dhoni had contributed 32 off 45 balls with 20 dots that comprised, remarkably, a few leaves outside off. Without him, the chase would have been dead long before but the question that will linger is: did he not also make it nearly unachievable?”

An apt summation of the sorry end to a storied career. Several times during the chase yesterday, TV commentators flashed statistics relating to, and rhapsodised over, Dhoni’s finishing skills: India has chased successfully 47 times when Dhoni was not out at the end, against only two losses. Startling statistics. Remarkable, even, as the TV pundits kept pointing out. And you could flash the same statistics today, and it would still hold true, and it is still remarkable.

But where are the stats for the last three, four years when Dhoni “took the game deep” and failed to finish it? Moral of the story: Legends, of this or any sport, deserve to be eulogised, to have songs sung and biopics made in their honour. And MS Dhoni is an authentic cricketing legend. But equally, there needs to be an open-eyed — albeit sad — recognition of waning powers, and it should start in the dressing room.

I’ll find and link to that press conference later, but I remember an interview with batting coach Sanjay Bangar earlier in this tournament, where he said: I don’t know why Dhoni’s batting keeps coming up. He went out at a difficult time, and after a few overs the asking rate had gone up even further, what could he do?

An amazing example of a non-responsive response, that: it is precisely because the asking rate keeps climbing when Dhoni is out there that India has found itself in trouble.

Sambit’s second point is equally valid (emphasis mine):

And to remember the chase by how it fell short will also obscure the real story, which is now part of an eerily familiar pattern that has followed India since the 2015 World Cup. Unbeaten till the semi-final that year, they fell to Australia in their first knockout match; this time, they topped the league stage with only one defeat. In between these, there was the loss to Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final. The common thread: the top three batsmen stomp through the league phase as if the stage belongs to them, but fail to turn up in the final.

The numbers couldn’t be starker. Put together, the top three contributed 3378 runs in these tournaments at an average of 73 but in the three matches that India needed to win, their total contribution was 109 at 12.1.

In 2015, the chase of 328 was derailed when Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli were dismissed in the space of 15 runs after a bright start; Rohit and Kohli were gone by the third over in the final of the Champions Trophy, and Dhawan joined them five overs later to leave India at 33 for 3. And here, perhaps in congruence with the relatively smaller target, the top three contributed three runs jointly. No one has scored more runs in chases than Kohli, but his scores in three of India’s biggest matches have been 5, 1 and 1.

It is a point I had repeatedly made in reports even of games India won in this tournament — even in the most convincing wins, the celebrations of India’s top three drowned out the few voices who pointed out that it covered up a weak, vulnerable underbelly. The team knew it, and the awareness of this weakness would ramify.

Consider this: India went in to the semifinal with five bowlers. On a tricky pitch spiced further by cloud cover, its two quality seamers Bumrah and Kumar bowled superbly — but between them, Hardik and Chahal gave away nearly half the runs the Kiwis scored — and in a low scoring game, such laxity makes a big difference.

You can’t blame Pandya — he was protecting an injury sustained during play; an adductor strain on the left side means, for a fast bowler, that he is no longer able to land hard on a braced leading leg. The real problem was the absence of a sixth bowler to cover up for such issues — so, where was Mohammed Shami? Imagine how effective he, with that remarkably upright seam, would have been in these conditions.

He doesn’t bowl well at the death? Duh! Don’t bowl him at the death, then. If you have him at the top with the new ball, and in the middle bowling the channel with that seam, you save overs of Bumrah and Bhuvi for the death. Instead, India looked for “depth in batting”, because the think tank was well aware of that weak underbelly I mentioned earlier.

Sambit, again:

The middle order was India’s known soft spot. At No. 4 to No. 6 today, they had a rookie who was drafted in as a replacement; an x-factor allrounder without demonstrated defensive skills; and the back-up wicketkeeper possibly at the end of an international career that hardly ever took off. All in their first World Cups. The young ones did the team no disservice, but that India remained in striking distance till the final overs was entirely due to a player who was very nearly an afterthought.

Alongside this, a grouse I have circled back to repeatedly in course of this tournament is the non-use of Ravi Jadeja by a team enamoured of the Chahal-Yadav combination. Any clear-eyed commentator would have pointed out that Chahal, right from the beginning of the tournament, has bowled only one way: flighted, well up, outside off, breaking further away. That worked when he also bowled his googlies — but I don’t recall a single googly from him through this Cup, do you? A stock ball works when you have variations; if the stock ball is the only ball you have, you become predictable. Hence Jadeja, whose all round show Nagraj Gollapudi celebrates here.

I’ll circle back to this post and add links as I find them; for now, there is a second semifinal to cover.

Which reminds me: England plays Australia today. In the lead up to this tournament, and throughout its course, I’ve read reams about England’s awesome batting lineup, which routinely hunts down previously unimagined targets. There are stats, endlessly marvelled over, of how many times in the last 12-24 months England has chased down 350+ scores with ease.

Does it occur to the commentariat that there is another way to look at this? That England’s bowling attack routinely concedes 350+ scores, and that this could be a problem in a crunch game when up against a good bowling side?

PS: Here it is, the Sanjay Bangar interview I referred to earlier; the stats in it underline the points I was making, and then there is the defense:

“I didn’t really find anything wrong in MS’ innings. He was batting beautifully. He struck a few big blows. It is just that in the last 4-5 overs the difference between runs required and balls left just kept creeping up.”

In case this needs mentioning, run rates don’t “just creep up” — they go up when you fail to take singles, to rotate strike, to share the load of reducing the ask.

Adding to the list of statements I take issue with, here is Virat Kohli saying 45 minutes of bad cricket cost India a place in the finals. It ignores the four years preceding those 45 minutes, when this happened.