Triumphant notes in bilateral outings and last-minute stumbles in multi-nation events have defined Indian cricket for nearly a decade. The strut and nonchalance in Tests, ODIs and Twenty20 Internationals — be it at home or abroad — often propel the squad into the realm of unreasonable expectations. But once placed in the ambit of ICC tournaments or even continental tussles like the recent Asia Cup, the Men in Blue have inevitably faltered.
It is a surprise that the word ‘choke’ is yet to shadow these cricketers, who have rendered service under varied captains like M. S. Dhoni, Virat Kohli and the current leader Rohit Sharma. In global limited overs’ contests, India last won an ICC title in 2013. Back then the Champions Trophy was secured at England’s expense in Birmingham with Dhoni holding aloft the trophy while Kohli did a jig. There was laughter while champagne bubbles popped in the air.
None knew that this was a rare luminous moment before the light dimmed and musty curtains descended while a title drought-plagued Indian cricket for nine years. The 2015 and 2019 World Cup, last year’s T20 World Cup or the recent Asia Cup, were mounted on hope before collapsing into the debris of defeat. The Goliath seemed to have feet of clay while sighting multiple opponents in ICC events. The only trophies being won were in nostalgia-infused movies like MS Dhoni, the Untold Story or 1983 which did their respective hat-tips to the golden run in 2011 and the previous high of 1983 when Kapil’s Devils stunned the West Indians at Lord’s.
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When you flipped the remote from OTT platforms to live telecast on sports channels, victory’s aftertaste acquired the bitterness of defeat. And as Rohit’s troops get set to criss-cross Australia for the latest ICC Twenty20 World Cup spread over October and November, the barren sheets of history need a trophy to light up those pages.
The appetiser is bound to be big when India opens its campaign against arch-rival Pakistan in Melbourne on October 23. Even that marginal edge of always prevailing over the neighbour in ICC events, is now wearing thin as Pakistan humbled India in the ICC T20 World Cup last year. In a sense this tussle is best to be dealt with upfront as the pressure an ‘Indo-Pak encounter’ triggers on the field and on either side of the Radcliffe Line, is stifling despite the ‘it is just a game’ cliche that players utter in press conferences.
In terms of team-news the initial tidings were soaked in despair. Losing Ravindra Jadeja first and then Jasprit Bumrah to the spectre of injuries, is never ideal. These were body-blows as Jadeja is a complete package — tidy spinner, gun fielder and handy wielder of the willow, while Bumrah — the spearhead — can rattle stumps and keep runs under a leash.
But destiny’s cards have to be dealt with and Rohit embarks on another tour to reiterate his captaincy attributes that shone bright as the skipper of Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League even if the last edition proved to be a disaster for his franchise. Between Dhoni’s iceberg persona and Kohli’s fiery outlook, Rohit straddles the middle-ground. It is also a tribute to his longevity that only he and Dinesh Karthik have lasted from the squad that won the inaugural 2007 ICC World T20 in South Africa.
Rohit knows what it feels to win a title or the heart-break of losing despite his gargantuan runs as evident in the 2019 World Cup in England. Back then he said that the Cup mattered more than his tons and his mindset would be the same now though India wouldn’t mind his spectacular hits out in the middle.
The batting ammunition that the top trio of Rohit, deputy K. L. Rahul and Kohli provide will determine how far India can go Down Under. A mix of injuries and the need to be rested has meant that the three haven’t consistently played together and that’s a chink which has to be quickly addressed. Even if these are blue-chip players there is no mistaking the influence that Suryakumar Yadav and Hardik Pandya can exert on the team’s fortunes. The duo can shift gears at a frenetic pace and if Pandya can lend a hand with his seam bowling, India would be well served.
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The return of Karthik and the management’s preference for him over Rishabh Pant is a reflection of the former’s finishing abilities but the latter can be considered, too, as a pure batter and besides that he also offers the left-hand option, something that is missing in the ranks following Jadeja’s exit. India may have prevailed over Australia and South Africa in the familiar bustle of home conditions in bilateral T20s but the previous loss in the Asia Cup will rankle. The bowling hasn’t sparkled and it remains a worry and the fielding needs to be kinetic on the vast grounds in Australia.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, wily but never express-pace, has to mentor the speedsters. Whoever replaces Bumrah, be it the two Mohammeds — Shami and Siraj, or anyone else from among the standbys, has to step up and strike. It would be interesting to see how spinner R. Ashwin, enjoying a second wind in T20Is, is employed. Yuzvendra Chahal is present, too, as Rohit and coach Rahul Dravid seek out that perfect attack which can deliver.
India’s recent tours of Australia especially in Test-whites have been impeccable. Be it dominating with a regular playing XI or a make-shift squad hit by injuries, the Indians have dished out riveting cricket. This characteristic is desperately needed as these men slip into their blues.
The IPL may be a great training ground for the Indian players but it also offers a platform for overseas coaches to be clued into key stars. That element of surprise which a Joginder Sharma or a Robin Uthappa offered in 2007, is no longer there. India needs to be wary of over-exposure while trying its best to scuttle opponents like South Africa in the early days of the championship.
This may not be a squad that ticks all the boxes but history has shown that India can spring surprises, be it in 1983 or in 2007. A lot will also depend on men on the wrong side of the 30s — Rohit, Kohli, Karthik and Ashwin — and about how they want to shape their individual legacies while blending it with the team’s cause. Kohli, for once, could shed his grouse over his exit from captaincy and stop venting ire through caustic lines at media interactions. He needs to look ahead and so too the team if Rohit is to lift the title on November 13.
In 1985, Sunil Gavaskar’s India won the World Championship of Cricket in Australia and Ravi Shastri, the ‘Champion of Champions’ driving the Audi remains a memory nugget. Hopefully the Men in Blue can add more lustre to their Australian diary this November.
|2012||Sri Lanka||Colombo RPS||West Indies||Sri Lanka|
|2021||Oman & UAE||Dubai||Australia||New Zealand|
Statistics: Rajneesh Gupta