The reality of not qualifying for the knock-out stage of the T20 World Cup has finally hit the millions of Indian die-hard cricket followers. One hoped and wished that the festival of lights, Diwali, would bring in some divine blessings. Unfortunately, that was not to be.
The Indian team played their last three matches like champions, but it was all in vain. The defeat against Pakistan and New Zealand in the two initial matches was a telling blow. Maybe, if India had played the lower-order teams earlier, they would have got the initial momentum to get them started.
Indian captain Virat Kohli’s remark as regards his team not being brave enough after the loss against New Zealand made one think seriously as to why he said so.
When one thinks about it, one wonders as to why a team that showed such aggression and positivity went into a shell.
Quite understandably, the loss against Pakistan had taken a major toll on the mental state of all the Indian players. A defeat against their foremost opponent is one that is unacceptable. This applies to both the countries and one that was the downfall of the Pakistan team in the last ODI World Cup when they lost to India.
The Indian team was unsettled when they played New Zealand and when put in to bat, the dew-factor syndrome put them further downhill mentally.
The main reason that one can pinpoint is the plethora of cricket that the Indian side is playing. The country boasts of a cupboard full of players where players are easily replaceable and interchangeable. In the last five years, India has had a battery of bowlers and batters not only in the playing eleven, but also as a part of the Indian squad.
The selection of players has become the most confusing aspect of Indian cricket. A good show in the Indian Premier League and a player finds himself directly into the Indian squad.
The bio-bubble could be another reason that may have had a severe effect on the Indian team, being on the road for the last six months. However, on the other hand it has been a boon for the players on the bench.
Earlier the touring squad consisted of 15 players who would replace one another. However, this was not the case in the present situation. A massive squad of batters and bowlers accompanying the side gives one many alternative options.
India’s magnificent performance in Australia showed how players who normally would never have played for the country were thrown into the deep end and most of them came through with flying colours.
Another reason could be the excessive amount of cricket that has not only required players to take a break but also because of this, many have succumbed to injuries. This looked fine on paper, but what finally happened was that the chopping and changing did not give India a settled batting or bowling unit.
The newer players who did well were replaced by the older reputed ones on their return. One more factor was that the IPL became the benchmark of a player’s skill, ability and mental strength. The difference between playing cricket for a franchise side and for one’s country is like chalk and cheese. There may have been a few players who have emerged and been successful, but should not be made into a practice.
India became a victim of its own cricket success. The options of many players and the shuffling of players regularly have brought about the biggest worry of a player — “the scare of failure”. Both in the ODI and the T20 World Cup, the Indian batting and bowling never looked settled because most of the players had someone else looking over their shoulder.
This is why the Indian side was tentative in both the limited-overs World Cups and did not show the bravery one expected from them. The thought of losing and not being the villain is what the prime reason was for this mental state of the Indian cricketers.
This, one feels, have been the reasons for India to fail time and again on big occasions.
The next T20 World Cup will be held next year and the ODI the year after. The Indian think tank of the selectors and Rahul Dravid the coach have to identify the players for each spot and pursue with them relentlessly. They need to show consistency in their thinking and be brave in their selections.
Indian cricket has all the ingredients to be world champions; it is putting it all together effectively that is a matter of concern.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)