India’s timing needs to be questioned on and off the field. On the one hand, an embarrassed but realistic Kohli acknowledged at the toss against Afghanistan that India knew they were up against it as far as making it to the semis was concerned – but also, that they knew they had to keep moving forward.
Funny how a couple of heavy defeats can narrow the perspective of a team, and indeed its captain, paradoxically widening the scope for speculation and criticism. While the door on India’s fortunes at the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup hasn’t yet shut, what do wins against visibly weaker teams like Afghanistan do for a team? Virat Kohli and his men are in the unenvious position of finding out.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India may not be on the same page as Kohli, for the moment, in the white ball version of the game, but they too must believe that there’s no better time than now, which is why they chose to officially confirm Rahul Dravid’s appointment as the Indian men’s next head coach even as the Indian innings against Afghanistan was going on.
If that was not bizarre in itself, those who had the opportunity to see the two warm-up matches ahead of the World Cup would confirm the sea change in the attitude of the Indian cricket team, belligerent and beguiling in the warm-ups but not so against Pakistan and New Zealand.
Without any disrespect to Afghanistan, it is hard to suggest India are back in the game purely because of the way they suddenly found batting form against an inexperienced team. Nor can one miss that Afghanistan kept India on the field longer than they would have liked given net run rate concerns.
Finger pointing is par for the course, as is putting the Indian Premier League under the scanner, even if it was only half a league that led into the T20 World Cup in the UAE. The captain’s flip-flop on whether a week’s break between the Pakistan and New Zealand games was good enough for the team is telling of how views change in light of the results.
India’s manner of back to back defeats was telling – their body language so indifferent that it could well be labelled an out of body experience. And after the BCCI practically set up the atmosphere to push Kohli into making an early decision about his future captaincy, there’s always the danger of skeletons being tumbled out the closet to assign blame.
Was it happening in the dressing room? Loss does lead to unsubstantiated rumours that find their way into autobiographies in later years.
India’s embarrassing no-show at the most important end of their super-12 matches has given others the opportunity to take potshots. Here’s one from former England captain Michael Vaughan: “Let’s be honest…for all the talent and depth in #India cricket they underachieved massively for years in white ball cricket.”
The empty World Cup cabinet is telling a story. But are India listening? Instead the only echoes are those of fatigue, from overburdened cricket schedules, lengthy bio bubbles and such. But at the risk of sounding like a broken record, why do these issues become relevant only when national duties are on display? Why is the fact that the IPL is only set to get longer, with the addition of two more teams, not the occasion for players and captains to talk about overscheduling, fatigue and other such reasons for the poor show?
Fairly obvious. With the BCCI filling its coffers to the brim and over, it’s no longer surprising that accountability for failures in prestige tournaments such as the ICC World Cups takes lower priority. Why then make a case for cricket at the Olympics? The IPL will still outweigh all other factors, and there is only one factor it seems that both boards and players understand: currency.
Another question worth asking is just what the BCCI were hoping to achieve by including Mahendra Singh Dhoni as team mentor at a very late hour. Arguably one of the most innovative captains in white ball cricket, the timing of Dhoni’s inclusion seemed to signal more a lack of faith in Kohli or Shastri’s ability to get the job done, rather than bolster the thinking in the think-tank. After two matches with egg on their face, it doesn’t seem like the decision paid off. If anything there may just be too many cooks to the broth.
Irfan Pathan even alluded to the fact in his social media post: “In any big tournament you can’t change the playing 11 in just one game and get desired results. Players need stability. And I’m surprised this is happening with some big names taking decisions.”
How the tables have turned! On the eve of India’s match against Afghanistan, Pakistan had sealed their semi-final spot. This must be a rare phenomenon given that Pakistan often carry the ‘mercurial team’ tag with them, threatening to implode at the first sign of trouble. For them to play this consistent is remarkable. The hiding at their hands is not something India would have anticipated as they rubbed their hands watching the quality of competition in their group, certainly better suited to them than the other, tougher qualifying group.
It could well be that India ride their luck, and win their next two matches against Scotland and Namibia to put points on the board. The bragging after Rohit Sharma won the man of the match seemed misplaced given that their opponents were Afghanistan, and the previous performances against more experienced teams.
But India cannot stop offering flimsy excuses, either for the team’s shuffled line-up against New Zealand, where the reasons for Ishan Kishan taking the opening position ahead of Sharma were speculated as being that the youngster is comfortable in that position, and that Sharma would need protecting from the likes of Trent Boult and the short ball (after the Shaheen Shah Afridi show in the first match) which if true, would be quite disappointing, as is the reasoning that India lost because Sharma and Kohli had been moved down from their traditional slots.
Should it even matter in Twenty20, at this level, with such stellar players?
“We didn’t play brave cricket,” Kohli declared after New Zealand. Not to take away from India’s win against Afghanistan, but is it not easier to be brave against a team that is still climbing up the ranks? Surely contemporary Indian cricket is better than what has been on show in the World Cup. That it should hurt more but doesn’t seem to is a chronic malady called apathy, not something to treat with a band aid after each underperformance at world cup events.
Losing the toss on dew-friendly pitches is one thing. But the manner in which some of the selections played out before and during the tournament thus far begs the question whether the selectors even have their finger on the pulse, or are in control of the selection, and if the think tank in the dressing room even knows their best eleven, when players are picked and dropped after one match with their backs to the wall.
The disparity in competition in the forthcoming matches against Scotland and Namibia does not make them an ideal laboratory for tests that will help India answer these questions.
Kapil Dev was equally scathing of the performance of some of the Indian cricketers, calling on the BCCI to step in if the need arose, and also to hand the baton to the upcoming generation if India’s World Cup chances were dependent on other teams’ performances, which seems to be the current state of affairs.
Technically India are in with a mathematical equation. But should it even matter, given how jaded the team have looked, not in the warm-ups ironically but rather when it mattered most? The question will also have to be asked if India peaked early.
After all, what explains the divided opinion over Ishan Kishan, who did so well in the warm-ups but became a scapegoat of the team’s muddled thinking when faced with the unexpected: losing to Pakistan in a World Cup?
If Kishan can be blamed for squandering this one-off chance, shouldn’t the captain’s competitor, Rohit Sharma, display more prowess rather than find a one-drop position difficult to negotiate in a 40-over match?
Stranger things have happened and Indian fans will keep their fingers crossed, although they would be advised not to hold their breath. #KhabarLive #hydnews