India's World Cup Defeat Invokes Overhaul Debate
This edition of the Twenty20 World Cup had seen too many edge-of-the-seat action matches
India's ten wicket defeat at the hands of England in the ICC Twenty20 World Cup's second semi final not only ruined prospect hopes of a second Indo-Pak clash in the same tournament but also, raised a few pertinent questions in the Indian context that might only be answered with a sweeping overhaul, from the top.
The headline could not be any worse, but it was. "England beat India by 10 wickets with 24 balls to spare." It screamed. What made it even worse was the fact that this edition of the Twenty20 World Cup had seen far too many edge-of-the-seat action matches, from lesser known teams to make it a final ball affair.
For this high level clash and that too in the semi final stage to end the way it did, comprehensively in the favour of the one team that did almost all the daring, it did not go down well, for the tournament or for arguably the most high profile team in the world. India also happens to be the no.1 Twenty20 team though not for long perhaps.
While it has been termed rude to raise questions about what such an overwhelming defeat does to a team's personnel, the time for questions to be asked in the face of such a massively humiliating loss is the day after. England and Eoin Morgan, the former captain, did precisely that to rebuild an England team stuck in the doldrums of its tradition.
How ironic that it was once England that was dubbed as being stuck in the dark ages, unmalleable to the demands of the modern game. England probably did the best thing for their cricketing prospects when they poached Eoin Morgan from across Ireland.
Morgan's appointment as England's limited overs captain coincided with an overhaul and rebuilding over a period of four years when England were finally rewarded for their painstaking makeover, with a first trophy in the ICC Cricket World Cup at home in 2019.
It is another matter that Joe Root, England's Test captain, in the wake of a personally humiliating Ashes drubbing, did point to that very overture at the time when the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) failed to balance traditional Test ambitions with newfound limited overs goals.
While neither Root nor Morgan captain England's squads anymore, the fact that England overcame the hiccup of losing to Ireland and still bounced back to trounce India in the manner they did to now find themselves in the final of the World Cup speaks volumes of the strides taken in that direction.
It is little wonder that almost everyone, not to mention the former England cricketers turned commentators, seized upon the opportunity to showcase England's performance with pride while pointing out that India, for all their Indian Premier League (IPL) millions, had fallen short while England, with their conservative export to the IPL, had settled a date in the final with Pakistan.
While water might have been poured on another high intensity encounter between fractious neighbouring countries, the writing on the wall could not have been more evident as far as team India were concerned.
Many will point to the moment when Virat Kohli, under unspeakable pressure from a board president (Sourav Ganguly) with whom he did not see eye-to-eye, chose to, in the public eye, announce his decision to step down from India's Twenty20 captaincy ahead of the ICC Twenty20 World Cup in 2021, calling the tournament his final stint in the short form.
Why did Kohli have to rock the boat? Many asked. Ganguly himself claimed that his pleas for Kohli not to step down had fallen on deaf ears. But whose ears? Kohli held a press conference refuting the board chairman's charges. How long would it be before Kohli would be seeing the last of his crown of thorns?
The BCCI argument was in favour of another, a case had been made and the rest is now for all to see. Was it worth it? One might ask, though it is likely the BCCI will want to look the other way very quickly.
At the heart of the BCCI's excuses for the change of guard was Kohli's inability to emulate his predecessor in terms of trophies in the showcase. So, what does another semi final do to separate BCCI favourite, Rohit Sharma, from Kohli before him?
More importantly, was Kohli right in his public case anyway that he had favoured a young skipper since Rohit was already older than him and that time would come knocking on the door, which everyone says it will now for the captain's post?
Whichever way the finger points in the blame game, the fact to be admitted is that this was a collective failure at all levels. The selectors might have been wishy-washy in their decisions, squandering the likes of Shubman Gill, Ishan Kishan or Prithvi Shaw as anyone who could have been a worthy prospect given that K.L. Rahul has had too long an end of the rope. Even if Rahul could counter argue his case with half-centuries, the manner and the quality of the opponents hardly justifies it.
Against the big guns, not only did Rahul come up trumps, so did his skipper, Rohit. While there is no doubt about Rohit's prowess, he has not only been out of touch, but he has barely been with the team in the past year since his appointment to properly helm a team or establish a brand of cricket which thus far, has remained on paper.
The so-called "batting template" seemed to have been forgotten back in India because although the team arrived three weeks in preparation for the competition, they left their new handbook behind with Dravid and Rohit clueless.
For all of the touting of a new brand of cricket, aggression was not India's calling card, contrary to coach Rahul Dravid and skipper Rohit's claims. If one looks past wins against the Netherlands and Zimbabwe, India had a close shave against Bangladesh, nearly held their breath to do a Houdini on the back of Kohli's bat against Pakistan in the first game and then were given a warning shot against unsuspecting South Africa.
Did the wins give them a sense of complacency that they could follow an old pattern and win in a modern game? Did they not take their defeat to South Africa seriously?
Questions will be asked why a versatile spinner like Yuzvendra Chahal was not played or why someone with the ability to turn a match on its head like Rishabh Pant was made a passenger? Was the compromise to have a bowler who could bat mean Ravichandran Ashwin won the nod? And did the compromise cause India the tumble in the end? Would an injured Jasprit Bumrah's presence be the panacea to all problems by the skipper's reckoning?
One of the former cricketers who disagreed with his contemporaries and others about India's chances at the ICC Twenty20 World Cup was none other than the 1983 World Cup captain, Kapil Dev, who gave India only a thirty percent chance of lifting the World Cup. And he provided the glaring error much ahead of time which was pointed out by several of England's former cricketers as well as Australia's in the wake of India's loss.
The question that Kapil Dev asked was what everyone in England was asking, where is India's depth in all-rounders? It restricts the captain's bowling options and severely restricts the line up in terms of versatile options. With the injury to Ravindra Jadeja, the problems become exacerbated when there is only one Hardik Pandya in the team to represent these players. England's lengthy batting line up in a horses-for-courses scenario that saw the likes of Adil Rashid at no.11 used in the match said it all.
India had a fixed template and it came unglued when the situations and conditions became more volatile. Dravid and Rohit will have a hard time explaining why Rohit claimed the players in the team are not newcomers to pressure since they play in the playoffs of the IPL.
Or why the captain chose to throw the bowlers under the bus when he himself, as much as anyone else, is guilty of playing a very conservative, almost self-sabotaging game of playing defensive at the start, which nearly cost the team their opening match against Pakistan and came undone against England despite late hour heroics from Kohli and Pandya?
It would have come off much stronger if the captain himself took some responsibility to say he was not in the best of form, that India had failed to take the bull by the horns in a format that demands the very thing and that they had tried to win a multi faceted game with one dimensional players. After all this Indian cricket line up has far too many batsmen up the order who are not in the habit of turning the arm over if only to disturb the opposition's rhythm or blunt their juggernaut.
Or should the BCCI be answering the question over why they put all their eggs in the basket of kicking Kohli off his pedestal when they should have been looking beyond Rohit for a captain for the modern game knowing Rohit's head would have been on the line even if India had won the trophy given that the next Twenty20 World Cup was two years away? Should they have been looking at a formula even further back when Mahendra Singh Dhoni lifted the inaugural World Cup with a team of relative unknowns, all hungry, eager and talented in their own unique way?
Instead, it is possible that the selection panel will be changed, new chief selector appointed and the BCCI waiting for the senior players to call time off, at their discretion after they have suitably satisfied their several sponsor obligations. Meanwhile, talented players like Umran Malik, Gill or Chahal will not even be on the side lines to drink in the atmosphere, not unless a situation forces itself as in Pant's case.
Remember Rishabh Pant at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 when he was left behind, then pressed into service and then thrown into the deep end of the dreadful semi final against New Zealand in England? Pant has had to live down criticism for being young, inexperienced and someone in the mould of a Virender Sehwag who is just as capable of turning into a match winner as he is to walk away with a duck but not for want of daring.
If the best bet for India was KL Rahul, India were already blunting their chances up front, while other teams were cantering off to great starts. An average of thirty runs at the end of the powerplay is not what Twenty20 is about, unless this was the batting template that Dravid and Rohit were talking about.
So, was it the bowlers' fault when they were under the gun from the get go, or was the pressure undone by the lower batting order when Pant did not even get enough balls to face, let alone create a destruction in the end?
The buck stops with the captain, as harsh as it sounds. In the end, an infinite amount of tears on the part of an emotional captain do not justify that this was as much England's brilliant bullish batting to add to their spirited bowling effort as much as it was India's slow going at the top of the batting order right through the tournament that finally caught up with them.
But who will bell the cat? With the next IPL auctions round the corner as also the next edition of the IPL, not to mention the focus shifting to the hosting of the ICC Cricket World Cup next year, the Twenty20 conundrum will be shoved to the back of the closet. Problems that might have well been masked had India gone the distance.
Rahul Dravid touched upon going the West Indies way, when asked about India's participation in multi leagues outside of the IPL. But perhaps he should look closer.
South Africa would not mind passing on the moniker of chokers to India because that is what they will be called after this. Nine years and no tickets to the finals is going to hurt.
Although South Africa did almost make a case for themselves and very convincingly this time, India are proving worthy title contenders. But where they also seem similar to South Africa's cricket is hoodwinking people into believing that a group of great players make for a great team. Star players they are, but not a great unit.
That is one team India is going to struggle to live down after this. Not yet the making of one, and it might take a whole other team before that title sticks. Or even another coach and captain in the white ball game as the suggestions are now pouring in a-dime-a-dozen from the commonplace to the bizarre.