Pakistan beat India in the finals of the Kitply Cup at Mirpur today. This was India's 13th defeat in 19 tournament finals in this decade. They have won three finals, of which only the NatWest Final at Lord's in 2002 was a sudden death game. The two finals India won in Australia earlier this year were part of a three match finals playoff.
This is a telling record, especially for a team which has won more than it has lost against good opposition in the same period. These defeats have included some spectacular batting collapses, such as the 54 all out against Sri Lanka. These 19 finals constitute a poor run with the toss as well - India have won the toss 6 times, while they have lost it 13 times. In the 16 finals which have fielded a result, India have batted second in 11 games and lost 9 times. In these 9 games, the average total conceded by India is 293. On the 11 occasions when India have lost the toss in conclusive finals, they have been asked to field first on all but one occasion (this was the KnockOut final in Nairobi in 2000 when New Zealand beat India).
Off the 25 tournament finals that have occured in this decade in all ODI cricket, 16 have been won by the side batting first, while 9 have been won by the side batting second. In these 16 finals where the team batting first has won, the average score is 270.
These numbers are fairly clear indicators as to the reasons why India have not been reasonable successful in finals (winning half and losing half would be a decent record in my view, 3-13 is a poor record). Bowling and fielding, which has been India's ODI weakness for much of this decade, gets amplified in finals, due to the fact that India are twice as likely to lose the toss in finals as they are to win it, thereby putting extra pressure on the bowlers, whose task it then is to restrict an opposition batting line up bent on racking up runs on the board without the pressure of a run rate.
Here is how significant this figure is. In all ODI games where the side batting first has made 290 or more, the side chasing has lost 85% of the games.
This Mirpur final was an interesting one, because India's young, top class fielding side still conceded 315. This presents a strong argument in favor of player your best available bowlers (Munaf Patel etc) instead of playing bowlers who can field well. Praveen Kumar, Irfan Pathan and Piyush Chawla have all made the side mainly because they offer something with the bat as well. The selectors seem to have chosen this approach, possibly because it is what Dhoni and Kirsten (with his South African roots) want. Admittedly, this tournament has been too short to make any long term choice, but India have to strengthen their bowling in ODI cricket if they are to reach the next level. This decade has been the decade where India's ODI batting has come of age (after Tendulkar and to a lesser extent Azharuddin being lone rangers in the 90's). It has also shown that without a good bowling and fielding unit, there is only some much success that is realistically possible, even in ODI cricket.
The 3-13 record is probably worse than India deserve (their poor run with the toss in finals has contributed to it), but it reveals their weaknesses. We could continue to point of Sehwag who failed with the bat in the final, or Yuvraj and Raina who fell at the wrong time during India's run chase, but thats not why India continue to lose finals. There is a deeper issue - one of quality bowlers.