With the ICC World Cup, scheduled to start from the 5th of October in India, there are two prominent questions that are looming; What can we expect? and where do we go from here?
But before we go into answering these questions, we need to know the current background. As of now, Team India has travelled to the Caribbean to play 2 tests, 3 ODIs and 5 T20s. While playing test cricket is extremely important for our chances of qualifying once more to the Final of the World Test Championship (and not losing this time), playing more T20s than ODIs when the World Cup is just about 3 months does not make sense at all. The mindset of the BCCI should’ve been to get more ODI experience.
While I agree that West Indies have not qualified for the World Cup for the first time and that they are not at their best right now but they still are a team to reckon, who can very easily change the game and can defeat any team when the Windies are at their best. Thus, playing more ODIs and getting more ODI experience will help Team India in their preparation for the World Cup, since there will be an added pressure to win after all they are playing on their home grounds.
While we’re talking about pressure, we need to address the elephant in the room, that is, NO ICC trophies since 2013. To be fair, it is not that Team India is not playing well at all. It’s just that Team India looks as if they have forgotten how to play cricket when there’s a lot of pressure on them, especially in knockout games. This is somewhat like what the early 1970’s-1980’s West Indies faced, but in spite of that, they still found a way to overcome their problem and win two consecutive World Cups.
Continuing onto the pressure part, in addition to not having won an ICC trophy in 10 years, Team India is also playing the World Cup which is entirely hosted by India. So, there will be immense pressure from the Indian fans to win the World Cup at home, just like we did in 2011. However, this time instead of Sachin Tendulkar, fans will be demanding the team to win for Virat Kohli, who is in many ways a successor to the Master Blaster.
Focusing on Team India’s performance in ODIs since the last World Cup in India. It has been quite impressive, to say the least, with India winning 12 out of the 18 bilateral ODI series. The worrying part of this statistic is that out of those 6 bilateral ODI series that we have lost, three of them are from late 2022 till today. Now, that’s worrying, isn’t it?
The reasons for these losses can be categorised into bad selection, poor aggression/ lack of will, lack of improvement and last but not least, poor form.
Poor squad selection has been one of the major criticisms of the current Indian set-up. When Rahul Dravid became head coach for the Indian team, everyone thought that finally, we would win something. After all, Rahul Dravid was a great batsman, he has been an important part of the NCA and has also coached India A and led the U-19 Indian Boys team to victory in the U-19 World Cup in 2018 as Head coach under the captaincy of Prithvi Shaw. This plan, however, has not worked yet, as there have been too many blunders under the Rahul Dravid era which even though has been moderately successful, is still below the expectations of many. The biggest failures yet have been the losses in the Semi-Final and Final of the last couple of ICC trophies, which have led many to question whether he really is a good fit as a Head Coach and whether the decisions being taken are well thought and for the benefit of the team.
On the other hand, it will be very unfair to only blame the management and coach because there’s only so much they can do once the game has started. If the players are not playing up to the mark, not showing aggression or the will to win the game, then the problem lies not with the management but with the players and their attitude. It is also not uncommon to see that the Head Coach’s strategies are not working because of the egos of some of the influential players in the team, who try to override the coach’s order or authority but the management cannot do something because the player is essential to the squad. This is also not something that is new because in the last 8-10 years there have been a lot of claims, allegations, and counter-allegations about certain players but it is also to be noted that we do not know if any of these claims or allegations have any truth to them.
Another reason I wanted to talk about is the lack of improvement. We, as a team and even individually are not improving per se. In spite of us performing well in general, many of the players individually are not exactly improving. Virat Kohli has had a problem with playing on the offside and edging the ball for a long, but you don’t see any improvement in that area. That problem has stayed for more than a decade and there is no sign that the problem is going to be solved anytime soon. Another player who is not overcoming his problem is the skipper, Rohit Sharma. For him, the pull shot is a boon as well as a bane because the opposition players now know that if they bowl short and keep the fielder in an appropriate position, they will get his wicket. Another weakness of his is the inswinger when it comes too close to the body especially if it’s by a left-arm fast bowler. That will get him dismissed either through an LBW or by being clean-bowled. Another problem that the team has, in general, is that it cannot cope with pressure and this has lost us more ICC trophies than any other problem and the sad part is that problem has still not been solved even after everything we’ve been through.
Last but not least, I need to mention, poor form as one of the big factors of our losses. This one is still majorly connected to poor selection as players who are playing poorly but are influential in the team hierarchy are not dropped as much or not dropped at all compared to players who are playing decently but are very low in the team hierarchy, who are dropped more often. At the end of the day somewhere in Indian cricket, we do tend to give more importance to names and legacies rather than the form of the player.
Now that we have looked into the background and have also identified our weaknesses in depth, we can now go back to answer the two prominent questions, I had asked at the start of the article. What can we expect? And What can we do from here?
When it comes to expectations, we obviously have a lot of expectations from Rohit Sharma, the skipper and Rahul Dravid, the coach as we thought they were the answer to all our problems. But, since there is not a lot of improvement in the way the team has been functioning and performing in the past few months, it would be unrealistic to expect them to suddenly do a 180-degrees and solve all the problems within the next 2-3 months. However, we can expect them to limit the damage that these problems might cause us, at the same time, the appointment of Ajit Agarkar as chief selector also gives us some hope, that we can change and improve by a good enough margin.
So, what can we do now that the World Cup starts in almost 3 months? The answer will be to have a stable XI, who are in good form and be beneficial to the team considering all factors. It is also my opinion that we should include Shikhar Dhawan in the squad for all the ODI for even T20 series before the world cup for namely two reasons, his reputation in ICC events and his performance in the IPL which was held recently in which he played quite well and statistically speaking, he played better than Rohit Sharma by scoring more runs in fewer innings.
The last thing that we can do to maximise our chances in the World Cup will be to work on coping with the pressure because as I have previously mentioned, the pressure this time will be immense and this will help us immensely, considering we have a strong squad and a stable and consistent XI. Coping with the pressure will also automatically help the players to make fewer mistakes because they’ll then be playing with a calm and composed mind and this will consequently reduce the damage caused by any of the problems the team or the players might have.