There are excuses that could be made in India’s favor for their inability to win games against Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Asia Cup. We could say they lost both the games after reaching a stage from which they could have won on some other days. But then the other day concept can be very flawlessly applied to every other phenomenon, from as trivial as getting beaten by a mosquito to as significant as India, the over-resourced powerhouse, losing a cricket game.
Asia Cup was supposed to be a build-up to the upcoming World Cup, where the selection dilemma would disappear, and the Indian team will finally have the perfect template for the much-awaited event in Australia. The tournament, it seems, has laid bare even more problems.
They lost Ravindra Jadeja to the injury, and they have just over a month to finalise the replacement. The top-order continues to be a point of concern. The individual scores of Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma may paint a different picture, but there has been no difference in the top-order batting from the last year, when they were blown away by Shaheen Shah Afridi. The Sri Lankan attack showed how easy it is to crumble Indian batting in the Powerplay if you get the matchups right.
Yuzvendra Chahal has been posing another sort of conundrum for the team. It would be harsh on him but not surprising if he doesn’t make it to the Indian squad. Barring the Sri Lanka game, Chahal has found himself under the pump, unable to get the breakthroughs or squeeze up the run-flow in the middle overs. R Ashwin was the second spinner against Sri Lanka, and Ravi Bishnoi played as the same role against Pakistan. There’s no surety over where things stand, and who among Ashwin, Chahal, and Bishnoi are higher up in the pecking order.
The decision to drop Dinesh Karthik hardly made sense, especially when India doesn’t possess any other players of his caliber. There might have won the game if not for the lack of finishing prowess in the back end of the innings. While India did need a left-handed batter in the playing XI, the decision to bring him in place of Karthik was baffling.
But the skipper Rohit Sharma hasn’t really entered the panic mode. Two losses, he says, are not the end of the world. In the post-match conference, Rohit, just like his batting that day, looked calm and composed and maintained his sanity after a crushing loss, not pointing fingers at anyone – a sign of a good captain. No problem, Rohit. Take it easy. That is what a team needs ahead of a marquee event.
Ever since Rohit assumed the captaincy, he hasn’t missed an opportunity to remind everyone about the “new brand of cricket” they are trying to play. Admittedly, Rohit himself leads this way. Any tectonic shift in the tactics starts from him alone, only then it reaches the rest of the team.
But there’s another worrying trend under his captaincy. Every failure is projected as just another stumbling block in the pursuit of a greater cause, a minor blip in the machine that will be rectified well ahead of the main event – the T20I World Cup. Winning World Cup is destiny and the journey that leads it to it will be hard and bumpy and not always pleasant. But another question is for how long will the learning curve continue?
Not many days have passed since the new coach and captain took charge, but it already feels like India have reached the point of stasis – of forever learning and failing and learning.
Moreover, their response to defeat leaves the impression that they inherited a faltering unit with too many loose ends, and the galvanization requires time and patience. The reality, however, is far from this. The team they inherited was already a well-oiled unit, supplanted by a never-ending stream of the talent pool, and it needed just a few replacements here and there, not a complete overhaul. Neither this team was under transition. The big names that played the last year’s T20I World Cup will play this year
And as the World Cup approaches, the specter of failure in big tournaments – amplified by their performance in the Asia Cup – haunts Indian cricket fans. They lost in the semis of the 2019 World Cup, got crashed out early in the 2021 T20I World Cup, lost the inaugural edition of the World Test Championship, and failed in South Africa and England. It’s just too many failures for what is touted as the nation’s greatest team. It’s too many failures to even be counted among some of the most dominant teams in cricketing history.
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