On Sunday, Rohit Sharma made a passing reference to the importance of the luck factor when reflecting on India’s performance in the Asia Cup.
“When you are playing a tournament like that, you need some luck also. I am not saying 100 per cent luck, but at least 5 per cent – say, the toss or the odd run-out. Basically the rub of the green also has to go your way [to succeed].”
Experts naturally have a tendency to focus only on the aspects of the game that players and teams can control. While that is understandable given the unreliability of luck or a new dimension – such as an unforeseen event that galvanises a side – controllables cannot adequately explain why good teams sometimes falter in multilateral tournaments or underdogs sometimes win them.
Rohit knows a bit about success. He led Mumbai Indians to five Indian Premier League titles and has been a member of all but one [2011 World Cup] of India’s teams that won ICC tournaments in the last 15 years. As the India captain, however, he has overseen an embarrassing exit in the only big tournament he has led his team in – the T20 Asia Cup.
The toss factor
Although there were numerous form-related issues and perhaps some strategic or tactical errors, the “rub of the green” truly did not go India’s way. In the T20 World Cup 2021 and the Asia Cup this year – both held in the UAE – teams bowling first were roughly twice as likely to succeed as teams batting first. India batted first in most games in both tournaments. And that added source of inspiration or confidence was missing too.
In the T20 World Cup, India’s top-order was rocked early, and batters were reigned in by the rampant Pakistani fast bowlers, and it took a bit of graft and pragmatism from Virat Kohli to take the team to a reasonable total. In a classic case of unwanted over-determination, the batters then adopted an unbridled approach against New Zealand, perhaps to compensate for their cautious approach in the previous game, and paid the price for it.
In the Asia Cup this year, India batted first in all its matches except the first against Pakistan. And the results were more or less on expected lines: the results of the three matches India played against the traditional heavyweights mirrored its toss results, and the wins when batting first were against Hong Kong and Afghanistan.
Both the defeats against Pakistan and Sri Lanka were narrow ones, the contest dragging on till the last over. It didn’t help that India’s seamers weren’t quite at the best in the death overs, and Jasprit Bumrah was missing. Kohli’s ton arrived in the dead rubber; had he ended the century-drought a game or two sooner, the team may have been buoyed enough to go all the way, for such intangibles do make the difference when the margins are small.
Peaking at the right time
Sri Lanka, in contrast, won all its tosses except in the final. And it peaked at the right time. It was shaken up by a huge defeat against Afghanistan in the first game and only narrowly brushed aside Bangladesh to stay in the tournament. Moreover, it faced heavyweights only in the latter half of its campaign, and by this point, it was a different side. The team’s mediocre runs in T20Is this year (seven wins and nine losses) stood in sharp contrast to India’s enviable record (19 wins and six losses), but it triumphed when it mattered.
Rarely does a team dominate throughout the competition. West Indies did it in 1975 and 1979, and Australia in 2003 and 2007. But those teams can be called ‘great’ teams, a tag perhaps not applicable to the Indian team at the moment, notwithstanding its might. Moreover, those instances correspond to the less-fickle 50-over format.
So as the T20I circus moves to Mohali, India’s success or failure against Australia will be a limited yardstick by which to judge the team’s potential for the upcoming World Cup. The three-match series would prove beneficial for the team even if it loses all three matches, if team members utilise the matches well to test themselves in a variety of situations, and rectify some of the loose ends visible from the Asia Cup.
Small victories can lift the morale of the team. Can Bhuvneshwar Kumar & Co. start denting the opposition again in the Powerplay? And can the fast bowlers – in particular, Arshdeep Singh and Bhuvneshwar – be less profligate during the death overs? (Arshdeep’s economy rate in the last four overs during the Asia Cup was 9.81, while Bhuvneshwar’s was 10.40). Can K. L. Rahul regain his form? Important as it is, solidifying the right team combination for the World Cup need not be the be all and end all.
Equally importantly, the team will be searching for that added inspiration. If Kohli, rejuvenated after his magnificent century in the Asia Cup, can provide leadership and rally the team as it moves closer to the World Cup, it might make that ‘small difference’ that Rohit seeks.
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