INDIA’S CRICKET LOSS IS A ‘MESSI’ AFFAIR
Nov 11, 2022: The loss against England in the semifinal of the T20 World Cup was all that took the millions of Indian cricket fans to bury their team in dust. The Indian team did seem to be like a well-oiled machinery that was progressing smoothly towards a possible Cup victory. Their top-order batters were getting into their groove and their star performer, Virat Kohli, was playing in sublime form. The only batting glitch was the performance of Rohit Sharma, their captain. However, one knew that he could turn the table at any given moment.
The defeat of the Indian side reminds one of the Argentinian football side. With one of the greatest players in their side in Lionel Messi and a few more skilful players assisting him they are still short of a World Cup win in recent times. Argentina has players with gifted individual skills and on paper they look a formidable unit. In the FIFA World Cup in 2014 with a side to boast of, they crumbled to a defeat in the final. With the best player in their side, Argentina, in the next World Cup failed again and were unable to even make it to the knock-out stage then.
The Indian cricket side seems to be in a similar ‘Messi’ affair. The team consists of many brilliant stars, who, on a World Cup or multi-nation platform, fail to deliver as a unit. One could analyse and come forth with various reasons as to why this inconsistency from a side that in a Bi-nation encounter seems to be consistently winning.
What exactly ails the Indian cricket side?
Personally, one cannot lay a finger on anything. The support staff accompanying the side has all the areas of the game covered as well as the mental and physical well-being of the players. The team travels and stays in comfort and are financially well compensated.
The Indian side also does not lack experience as regards the T20 format of the game, as all their players have done well playing in the competitive Indian Premier league (IPL). With the plethora of cricket being played around the world, the Indian cricketers are now well travelled and the perennial excuse of playing overseas in conditions unknown is now unacceptable.
The Indian team’s build-up to the semifinal as regards their bowling and batting looked relatively in place and one was pleased to see that they had, in this edition of the tournament, got acclimatized to the Australian conditions. The BCCI did a commendable job in sending the side earlier, leaving no stone turned for one to question any inadequacy in their preparation.
“Just one bad day in the office” has been a regular retort and excuse every time India fails in an ICC World Cup tournament. One has accepted it with a heavy heart. It has been more than eight years since an Indian cricket fan has celebrated an ICC tournament win. One can understand their disappointment and emotional outburst. The potential and capabilities of the Indian players is as good or less than none, however, at a crucial juncture either the batting or the bowling seems to disintegrate.
One is amused to read the criticism that emanates from an Indian team’s defeat after a major tournament. Phrases like ‘some of the senior players should retire’ or the ‘young players should be inducted’ or ‘the Indian players should play in T20 franchise-based tournaments abroad’ are presently making the round. The selectors too are being questioned on the squad and more about their credentials.
This to me are all frustrated remarks, as the Indian team selected was the best of the available lot, with plenty of options to choose from. The team looked like one that had gelled into a good fighting squad and all of them showed a positive attitude and looked fit for the fray.
India, to me, were outsmarted and outthought. They were beaten by England through a better game plan, strategy and approach. Winning the toss was a great advantage to England, as it gave them a good understanding of the conditions. England had also analysed the contours of the ground and the bounce and pace of the wicket superbly.
India did well to get 169 runs on the board, which they would have also happily accepted at the start, being the par score of the venue. England, did get the advantage of a fresh bouncy wicket to bowl on first, however, they played a master-stroke in bowling both their wrist spinners early. The extra bounce and slow turn with a harder ball did make it difficult for Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav to explode in the way in which that they are known to do.
One could see a bit of panic and worry on the face of the England players when Hardik Pandya cut loose to play some astounding shots. However, both the English openers learned from Hardik’s innings and aped it to perfection. They took the Hardik Pandya aggressive stance from the very beginning which resulted in disorienting the Indian bowling attack. The wicket slowed down appreciably and the bounce helped in punishing the short balls at will. The Indian bowlers had no answer to the assault that they were facing from both Jos Buttler and Alex Hales at the crease. It resulted in butchery of the highest order.
India may have lost this battle; however, they can redeem their lost pride in the next big World Cup event, the ODI Cricket World Cup 2023 being played at home in India.
In the meanwhile, one wonders whether Argentina in the upcoming soccer World Cup 2022 in Qatar will have another ‘Messi’ Indian moment or not?
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)