A dream extinguished — India retreat into passivity at the biggest stage of them all
The night came early at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Sunday. Literally and figuratively as the blue sea turns into a desolate silence, among the sad empty oranges in the stands. The fans in their India jerseys were leaving in droves, not being able to watch a dream final like this, worse than a nightmare.
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How did this come about? Sure, wins and losses are part of sport, cricket is a game of glorious uncertainty and that’s nothing but form and track record to do with anything anymore? In the end, Marnus Labuschagne and Travis Head were making it a hero. It wasn’t even close.
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Where was the fight?
So how could this team, this team that had dominated everything until this particular moment, always find an answer, rarely allowing the opposition to even sniff a victory, be so completely without a fight? That’s what matters most – that this team went down without a fight when it mattered most.
Take nothing away from their overall performance. This was undoubtedly India’s best ODI World Cup campaign. As their traveling fleet moved across the country, destroying different batting players in different stadiums, they inspired joy, unity and compassion in the Christmas season. The slow start to the World Cup got bigger and bigger as India went from strength to strength. It was a glorious celebration of colour, passion and festivity – everything that the country and its cricket is known for.
And yet we are back again to: what happened in the final?
They lost it in the middle overs
India’s first innings consisted of two parts – the next ten and the next forty. Twelve boundaries came in India’s first ten overs, seven of which came right off Rohit Sharma’s bat. This was the team’s template throughout the tournament, reflecting the captain’s fearless hitting.
True to form, even in a big final under immense pressure, to his credit, Rohit stayed true to the script that worked so well. He attacked the Australian bowlers from start to finish. His 31-ball 47 gave India a great start and if the Player of the Match had not taken that brilliant catch, the result might have gone the other way.
Unfortunately for the captain, the batsmen behind him failed to follow his fearless lead. At the first sign of pressure, they retreated into a comfortable tentative cocoon that was all too familiar that they had left. This test is what the Indian cricket team has been doing for the last decade, especially in ICC tournaments. Under pressure, they lose their dynamism and revert, almost by default, to a safety-first approach.
The great hope that came out of India’s campaign was that this test, this pain, had finally faded away under Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid. But old habits die hard. When Shreyas Iyer was dismissed in the second ball of the tenth over, India hit just two boundaries till the end of the 42nd over. When Iyer was dismissed, the score was 81/3 in 10.2 overs, a run rate of almost eight. At the end of the 42nd over, the score was 207/6 – 126 runs conceded in 190 balls and the run rate was reduced to just over four overs.
Head’s counter-attack deflates India
Compare it with the Australian approach. Even after staring down the barrel at 47/3, Head didn’t go into his shell. Two overs later, he smashed Mohammed Shami for two boundaries in two balls. Labuschagne’s strike rate was low but he did not allow any pressure to build, taking singles in almost every corner, the two batters ensuring that they did not even give India a glimmer of hope with a girl over after the ninth. Yin did not have an easy start; Jasprit Bumrah was toying with him in the first over but when he was brought back into the attack for the second over, the batsman threw caution to the winds and hit him for three boundaries, effectively killing the contest.
There will be a lot of talk about difficult batting conditions in the first half, about the dew, and about playing on a tacky surface. But Rohit Sharma will know that they are just excuses. For a team of India’s caliber, none of them should be invincible. Even if the pitch was slow, this team had the experience of injecting some urgency into proceedings, throwing the Australian bowlers off their pace and making them bowl according to Plan B or Plan C. The answer was a they had to be meek and submissive, letting Pat Cummins and They fulfill their plans perfectly.
As the dust settles, there will no doubt be pain and repetition. It could be very different altogether. The difference in mentality shines through. Fear is easier said than done. Fear of failure has a different pressure. But if that fear is not put to rest, India will still struggle to cross the finish line in major tournaments.
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