ICC Twenty20 World Cup 2021 - The Cracks Within
Why India’s lack of qualification is still a problem
Two blockbuster semi-finals capped the end stages of the highly anticipated ICC Twenty20 World Cup 2021.
In terms of providing bang for buck, the sheer unscripted fashion in which both, New Zealand and Australia, pulled off wins in such unexpected fashion, stunning England and Pakistan respectively, it seemed to matter little in the end whether market leaders such as India failed to set the tournament on fire. Yet in such a small market as cricket trends, it is an anomaly and an imbalance.
Tremendous respect must be accorded to all four teams that made the semi- finals a thrilling edge-of-the-seat affair. A clash of previous world cup rivals, they proved to be a breath of fresh life, setting up the stage nicely for rivalry and avenging matches.
For New Zealand, it was important to show they were not a one trick pony or a one man show when it comes to the likes of Martin Guptill and their skipper Kane Williamson putting on sublime batting displays. Devon Conway and thereafter, Daryll Mitchell made a thunderous final five overs that knocked the winds of the smooth sailing England team.
Often labelled the underdogs, New Zealand have been one of the most consistent teams that show up regularly in World Cup semi finals. Making the final after the ICC Cricket World Cup 2021 was important to stamp their status further.
For Pakistan, it might have seemed like a huge disappointment that Australia found firepower in the late order batting of Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade especially after the likes of Shaheen Shah Afridi led the way with the ball and Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam with the bat.
But despite their semi final hiccup, this was an important tournament in the context of things as cricket in their region has suffered setback in the immediate aftermath of the US withdrawal of Afghanistan with teams pulling out of touring. Pakistan, who became willing tourists through the pandemic because of the financial fall out over more than a decade, needed to show they are not merely making up the numbers.
That brings the story to the heart of the matter, which is the financial ramifications for all teams when one turns into a non performing asset.
Unlike the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) which has the Indian Premier League to bank on exclusively to fill its coffers, the sixteen tournament could not afford another postponement as far as the International Cricket Council (ICC) was concerned. After the ICC depends heavily on showcase events such as the World Cups to pay its many affiliate nations who are not only dependent on the financial pay out for their development but also, on tournaments such as this for exposure and to attract sponsorship.
To that end, while the relevance of the World Cups will continue to be debated given that the International Cricket Council (ICC) had slotted the ICC Twenty20 World Cups in consecutive years in 2021 and 2022 and the fifty overs a side ICC Cricket World Cup in 2023 amidst the ICC’s decision to cull the participation of the 100-strong associate/affiliate teams from the ICC Cricket World Cup 2021 under pressure from the top teams and the broadcasters, the ICC Twenty20 World Cup has become all too important for these teams on the fringe.
Teams such as Namibia, Scotland and even Afghanistan might not have been giant killers in this tournament. But their participation in a tightly scheduled tournament that did away with the quarterfinal format was made interesting by the fact that more established teams not only needed to beat these teams but also, do so in stupendous fashion to improve their net run rate, leaving eight out of twelve teams at the door from the get go, making every match until the penultimate match of the group stages a must watch. Isn’t that the recipe for an eyeball attraction of a tournament?
Addressing the elephant in the room would mean inevitably touching upon India’s embarrassing exit from the sixteen team tournament. It might seem like an inconsequential matter at this point. But in the context of the global game, it is a matter of concern when the team that has the potential to rake in a disproportionate amount of money into the game and also, draw such audience around the world – the India Pakistan game alone was worth over 130 million pairs of eyeballs – underperforms as India has, leaving the tournament and potential future broadcasting of such events in jeopardy for the many teams dependent on it for their sustenance.
There have been several factors that have been raised as to why the most watched team in the world failed to lift their game when push came to shove, thrown into the deep end as they were right away.
Amongst the excuses offered for why a team like India failed to get off the blocks was dew and the bio bubble induced fatigue. But experts were quick to denounce dew factor as playing a role, because as it turned out, the Indian batsmen failed to put enough runs on board, not only against Pakistan but also, against New Zealand, thereby not giving their bowlers much to play with, to counter the dew that would hinder their efficacy with the ball.
While some have chosen to blame the format and others like former New Zealand bowler-turned-commentator, Simon Doull, blamed it on broadcasters’ greed – petulance perhaps in assuming India as a fixture in the final four, the fact of the matter remains that if Ravi Shastri, the outgoing coach, believes that the Indian cricket team punched above their weight in his tenure when he used the word “overachieved” and Kohli can claim that India played “very good cricket” towards the end of the tournament, then so can South Africa.
But then South Africa, low as they have fallen over the past couple of decades, can also claim to have been spectacular by their own standards, raising their bar steadily over the five matches, even beating a strong team like England, one of the tournament favourites, and caused such flutters in their final match that for a time, England, Australia and South Africa were in a three way tie with the top two positions in the group of death that was eventually decided by the net run rate.
In contrast, India were positioned in the relatively easier group of the two and it is indeed concerning that Shastri should raise this point about the team being “mentally and physically fatigued” at the end of the tournament, calling for space between the IPL and the ICC tournament, which should have been a problem in any case all through his tenure following in the footsteps of Virat Kohli’s repeated statements about workload management, also cited rather unconvincingly about his stepping down from the Twenty20 captaincy.
Even more flabbergasting to hear is Sunil Gavaskar making some broad observations suggesting that not only did the team lack quality batsmen, bowlers and fielders but also, that some of the players should have made it a point to take a break from the Indian Premier League which ended just a couple of days before the start of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2021 to prepare themselves for the mega tournament.
For Kapil Dev to say it, is another matter because Kapil Dev, until Gavaskar, has not owed the kind of financial and remunerative loyalty to the BCCI to the point of throwing the players under the bus, after the fact. Incidentally, in the same breath it should be mentioned that no complaints were made about the IPL, which the BCCI was adamant to complete despite the rigour of 60 matches albeit broken over two legs this year, which is set to get even longer next year with the addition of two more teams to bring the total number of matches to 92.
For someone who has been prominently on the payroll of the BCCI, the former captain would not touch upon what it does to a player’s financial bottom line and his future prospects with the IPL franchises if he chose to make a decision against the franchisee’s interests just as the BCCI has not been able to allay the players’ concerns over workload, even with strenuous international commitments, by taking a step back as far as the IPL is concerned.
While the BCCI has often suggested that they have an open door policy for players who need rest, it seems more a matter of face saving lip service rather than a secure policy knowing the competition for players as well as the politics and favouritism that runs through the rank and file of the BCCI, not just the Indian dressing room.
It seems assigning the blame has become an important agenda when the fact of the matter is that this is an inbred problem for years with the BCCI getting away staging the IPL close to such ICC events as well as bilateral series – a problem as scathing on the cricket map as the mushrooming of leagues around the world, and even sending second string teams to tours such as the West Indies and Zimbabwe when it should be an exception, not the norm, to find a brunt of injuries and niggles and now bio bubble fatigue-related issues to players not revealed or addressed at the time of the IPL only to jeopardize bilateral tours.
Ravindra Jadeja’s reply in a query prior to a match in the tournament of what India would do if they lost could be interpreted in two ways. One was that he was stating the obvious that there was nothing else to do but pack their suitcase and go home. It might have drawn laughs. But it could also be seen as something deeper, something that actually hurts the core of the team enough to want to take remedial measures. But with the next big IPL auction and a bigger IPL tournament around the corner, will lessons be learnt before next year’s World Cup?
But India, being in a position to dictate terms, would be able to get away with it just as it is unfathomable that India’s skewed schedule of a week’s break between the matches against Pakistan and New Zealand and then back to back matches against Afghanistan, Scotland and Namibia was only made with the holidays and festivals in mind without input/influence from the BCCI. But while team India can get away underperforming, cricket is in a far too perilous state to let such tournaments become passe in the eyes of the players or the BCCI.
When money becomes the deciding factor – the BCCI needs the IPL and the ICC, the World Cups to pay its various associate members, is there a middle ground? After all, when addressing the matter of the anomaly of back to back ICC Twenty20 World Cups, it has to be remembered that this tournament was originally supposed to be the ICC Champions Trophy whose cancellation meant rewarding the hosts India with a World Cup in lieu by the governing body of the game.
Need one say more?