Experience gives India the edge in Champions Trophy

The biggest positive for me is the fast bowling department. Be it the first power play or the death overs, I believe Team India has the best fast bowling fire-power in world cricket for any condition.

Virat Kohli didn’t seem to be at his fluent best in the IPL.   -  PTI

‘Yatra Pratibha Avsara Prapnotihi’. ‘Where talent meets opportunity,’ is the preamble of the Indian Premier League. Over the last decade it has truly lived up to that. Every year we see new talent coming through, but this year was special. In terms of talent that came through the ranks, I personally felt it was a notch above the previous nine editions.

Almost every team throws in a few good youngsters from its talent pool, but this is the first time that I got the feeling that some of these guys won’t be the proverbial ‘one season wonder’.

The likes of Rishabh Pant, Rahul Tripathi, Md. Shiraz, Basil Thampi and Krunal Pandya are here to stay. Most of them backed up their good domestic performances with equally good numbers in the IPL. This makes me optimistic about the future of Indian cricket. This optimism doesn’t just come from the numbers that these players amassed in the tournament, but from the manner in which they scored them and the situations in which they got them.

The contributions of uncapped domestic players in every franchise tell me that the next generation is ready to take over. Jasprit Bumrah bowling the super over or death overs with Lasith Malinga still around; the endearing picture of Suresh Raina’s indulgent pat on Rishabh Pant’s helmet — all symbolic of the passing of the baton. Not only from the Indian perspective, but also from the perspective of the international game. Two Afghanistan bowlers playing a crucial part in their team’s success is evidence of the progress associate nations have made.

Selection not surprising

So, when the time came for the selection of the Indian team for the Champions Trophy, there was an expectation that some of these names would be included. Contrary to some, I was not surprised that the selectors didn’t make too many changes to the ODI side that played against England. With my experience as the chairman of selectors for Bengal, I can understand the national selectors’ call. The last time India played ODIs was roughly five months ago, and there wasn’t adequate preparation time.

After the Indian team landed in England on May 25, it played warm-up matches on May 28 and 30 ahead of its Champions Trophy clash against Pakistan on June 4. Considering this, I don’t think there was time for the team management to know new players or for the new players to understand their roles in the side. Hence, it was better to stick with the team that has been together for a while.

A high pressure tournament like the Champions Trophy in English conditions can be overwhelming for the best of players. Thus, it makes sense to go with players who have been there, done that. Therefore, it’s no coincidence that nine from the 2013 Champions Trophy winning side are in this squad as well.

The other fact is, it’s a short tournament. There are three league matches against Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa before the semifinals and the final. Chances are that there wouldn’t be too many changes in the XI that plays the first game, unless forced.

Reasons for concern

While I’m not surprised, I’m certainly concerned. I too believe performances (or the lack of it) in one format shouldn’t be the criteria for selection in the other, but it certainly is an indicator of form or mindset, and specially when the last white ball cricket Team India played was five months ago. From that perspective, the IPL was important. This is where my concern is, especially in the batting and spin departments. Rohit Sharma got a few dubious verdicts, but what bothers me is the way he got out to incoming deliveries, against spinners and fast bowlers. That the last time he opened was in October 2016 doesn’t help the cause either.

Virat Kohli’s success in the past few years across formats has been largely due to playing high percentage shots down and along the ground. If you look at his dismissals in the IPL, most of them were while trying to play across and in the air. He got runs in a few matches, but didn’t seem to be at his fluent best.

The other major concern I have with regard to Kohli is the kind of mindset he is in, after a miserable season with RCB.

While M. S. Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh showed glimpses of their form through the last month and a half, Ajinkya Rahane and Kedar Jadhav looked pale shadows of their true self. There is a very good chance that India might go in with one spinner. The news isn’t very encouraging on that front because Ravindra Jadeja had an IPL he would like to forget and Ravichandran Ashwin is coming off an injury.

What are India’s chances then? I’d like to be optimistic. Most of the Indian players might have had an average last few weeks, but they have, as individuals and as a team, overcome pressure situations, like they did in the 2013 Champions Trophy. India’s record in high pressure ICC tournaments has been impeccable in the last few years. Most of the batters prefer the ball coming on to the bat, which will happen in England. The biggest positive for me is the fast bowling department. Be it the first power play or the death overs, I believe we have the best fast bowling fire-power in world cricket for any condition.

Let’s now look at India’s chances with an eye on the opposition. India needs to win two of the three league matches to qualify for the semifinals. First up is Pakistan (June 4) at Edgbaston. Birmingham has a huge population of expat Indians and Pakistanis, which could make things very interesting. On top of that, the first game could set the tone for the tournament. India’s record against Pakistan in ICC tournaments is near perfect, and that means a psychological edge. But the fact that India has lost to Pakistan twice in previous editions of the Champions Trophy takes the pressure off.

The second game is against Sri Lanka (June 8) at The Oval, which generally is a good batting track. Sri Lanka hasn’t had a great time for a few years and India definitely is the favourite. The last league game against South Africa (June 11) is again at The Oval. South Africans have problems of their own, whether it is Kolpak, injuries or internal policies. They haven’t had a good start in England, losing the first warm-up against the host by a huge margin.

Once in the semifinals, the experience of this lot in pressure situations might become the X factor. We will have our chances and I believe this team is capable of grabbing those. Come 18th of June, I won’t be surprised to see Kohli emulating Mahi.

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