Sunil Gavaskar: Games you play for India not irrelevant

Virat Kohli terming the ODI matches results irrelevant in a year when the ICC T20 World Cup is to be played was hard to understand.

At the ICC ODI World Cup last year in England, the middle order had hardly got to bat because of the sparkling form of Rohit Sharma, who hit five hundreds in the competition, and skipper Virat Kohli, who missed out on the tons but got five half-centuries.   -  AFP

The second week of February was a disappointing one for Indian cricket fans. Not only did the senior team lose all three One-Day Internationals to New Zealand, the under-19 boys lost in the final of the World Cup, failing to defend the crown that their predecessors had won a couple of years earlier in New Zealand.

The under-19 final was a bad-tempered affair from the first over when the Bangladeshi opening bowlers started to sledge the Indian batsmen. That may well have been a tactic to get under the skin of the Indian batsmen, but it hardly worked as the top three batsmen showed great composure and slowly but surely built a platform for the ones coming in to bat after them.

However, as had happened in the ICC ODI World Cup last year in England, the middle order had hardly got to bat because of the sparkling form of Rohit Sharma, who hit five hundreds in the competition, and skipper Virat Kohli, who missed out on the tons but got five half-centuries. This meant that the batsmen coming in after them had little exposure to the English conditions and didn’t have enough overs to bat. Thus, when Sharma and Kohli were out cheaply in conditions where the ball was swinging, the batsmen following them were unable to cope and made a mess of a not too big a target that they had to chase.

A similar thing happened with the under-19 team, where the top three had batted so well in most of the games that the batsmen after them had perhaps hit more balls in the nets than in the middle in a match. In a crunch situation, that is always going to be a disadvantage for the batsmen who just didn’t have the wherewithal to cope with the pressure. There was also panic as the Bangladesh bowlers bowled splendidly and the fielders fielded tigerishly and didn’t give away any easy runs. The result was that the Indian youngsters were looking for non-existent runs and lost a couple of wickets to unnecessary run-outs. Though they tried their best, they were unable to defend their poor score and Bangladesh deservedly won the title.

They were by far the better team on the day and their attitude from the first ball showed their determination and keenness to win the title. The way the Bangladesh juniors played shows that the future is really bright for their team. What followed after the winning runs, however, was sad and whoever started it does not matter. But if the under-19 boys are going to behave this way, then the ICC will have to step in to ensure such behaviour is nipped in the bud. The ICC did suspend some players and hopefully the players will be suitably chastened and learn that some days they will win and some days they will lose. So, when you win, don’t gloat, and when you lose, accept it with grace and humility.

Yashasvi Jaiswal celebrates on reaching his century in the semifinal against Pakistan at the Under-19 World Cup on February 4. With 400 runs, Jaiswal was the top-scorer in the tournament.   -  AFP

 

Of course, this is far easier to say, for in this television era where everything is done to attract attention, it is easy for the younger, impressionable generation to think that’s the way to go since their seniors are doing it. The seniors played brilliantly to snatch wins from impossible situations in the T20 International series, where they whitewashed New Zealand, winning all five games. This was the first time India had beaten the Kiwis in the ultra-short format of the game. However, the loss of Sharma to injury meant that they had to open the batting in the three-match ODI series that followed with two new openers since Sharma’s regular partner, Shikhar Dhawan, also hadn’t come on the tour because of an injury.

With both the openers struggling and for once the One-Day master Kohli being out of form, the Indians lost all three games in the series to be whitewashed themselves. Despite Kohli’s lack of runs, the team hadn't done badly, with Shreyas Iyer getting his first ODI hundred and K. L. Rahul continuing his super form with a hundred in the third and final game. That they weren’t able to defend totals of 347 and 297 does tell you something about the Indian attack and that’s a worrying sign. Like Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah had a lean run in the bowling and that was telling as the Kiwis got past the targets quite easily.

Captains generally try and coat over losses with words to encourage the players and make them come back with a fighting attitude, but Kohli terming the ODI matches results irrelevant in a year where the ICC T20 World Cup is to be played was hard to understand. Quite simply, there can be no irrelevant matches when one is playing for India. Every game for India is important for it’s an honour and a privilege to be able to represent the country. If the ODI matches are irrelevant this year, then why were the two magnificent comeback victories after losing the first game badly to Australia barely a month earlier celebrated with such gusto and there was much talk about the character of the team, et cetera. By all means try and lift the spirits of your team after a loss, but please don’t call any game that you play for India irrelevant.

Support Sportstar


Dear Reader,

Support our journalism — where text and pictures intermingle so seamlessly — and help us scale up your experience as the world changes around us. Your contribution is vital to our brand of uninfluenced, boots-on-the-ground reportage that’s worth your while. Clickbait sensationalism is not for us, but editorial independence is — we owe it to you.