During the 1990s, when Team India used to lose games in bulk, the fans and the Indian media used to say that it was not why Team India is failing but how it is losing the matches. One can repeat the same way Team India lost the WTC Final 2023 last evening. From toss to the team combination to the execution and leadership, everything was of a pathetic standard.
Being a die-hard cricket fan and not a fan of any particular Indian cricketer, I seldom use harsh words while criticizing my team. But, it seems that today is one of those rare days when I am forced to use harsh words when I am trying to analyze the defeat my team received in the WTC Final 2023, probably because of its fault when you already can sniff the victory at the time of the toss and know that you need to play your cards smartly to achieve that win.
Alas, that didn’t become the case, and Rohit Sharma put the first foot wrong by choosing to bowl first after winning the toss at The Oval. Yes, there was an overcast condition on offer, but since last week the weather forecast was sunny, sunny, and more sunny for most of the five days. One wonders how experienced people like Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid can decide on the path of a Test match based on the first hour’s weather conditions.
For the first hour or so on day one till the sun was under the clouds India got few wickets, but once the sun was out and remained like that for the next four days, Team India played with no advantage. After the sunny conditions prevailed as forecasted at least a week back, Team India only had to do the chasing job. I vaguely remember the words of Sir Geoffrey Boycott, who said long before during commentary, “If you have decided in the dressing room that you will bowl first after winning the toss (for a Test match), think again and bat first.”
The above quote fits better with the thinking of Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid, which turned out to be a blunder that cost India an ICC trophy. If this wasn’t enough, they also dropped (I already cautioned that I would be using harsh words in this blog, so not choosing ‘looked beyond’) Ravichandran Ashwin, the No 1 Test bowler for the ‘Ultimate Test’! If the toss decision was a blunder, then this was utterly stupid.
Taking Ashwin into the playing XI wasn’t the guarantee of winning, but he would have strengthened our batting lineup more than what Umesh Yadav has to offer with the bat. Plus, David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Travis Head, and Mitchell Starc are left-handers, and yet as per the team management, Ashwin wasn’t qualified to be in the playing XI; disgusting decision.
In the past, we have seen teams winning even after making blunder after blunder, but that wasn’t the case with us. After the first hours of play and the initial onslaught by Travis Head, our bowlers lost the plot suddenly, and along with the ‘street-smart’ Steven Smith, Head put 300 runs on the board at the end of the first day’s play. This score proved why India should have batted first after winning the toss.
Once Australia scored 469 in the first innings, Team India could only hope to draw the WTC Final 2023 and not win it, and when you have a mindset to draw a Test match, you invariably lose it. Even if to draw a Test match successfully from the second day itself, you need to have a proper application but look at the way Rohit Sharma, Shubhman Gill, and Cheteshwar Pujara got out in the first innings. When you lose wickets the way they lost, one gem of a delivery was bound to come at any time during that innings, and that’s precisely how Starc got Virat Kohli out in the first innings. Thanks to Ajinkya Rahane and Shardul Thakur, India could save the follow-on; otherwise, there was a chance that the Test would have ended on the fourth day.
In the second innings also, shot selections by Rohit, Pujara, Kohli, Rahane, and KS Bharat were poor that too after establishing themselves for some big individual scores. As the great Sunil Gavaskar said after the match got over, 7 Indian wickets couldn’t even survive a session as the batting was in shambles. Everyone knew that the first session of the last day would decide which way the WTC Final 2023 would go, but the Indian batters made that decision possible within an hour and a half itself.
Is IPL to be blamed for the debacle of Team India in the WTC Final 2023?
One can blame anything for such a wretched performance; if one has to blame IPL, there is no problem, but then we need to look at the top performers (if we are forced to look) in this match before coming to that conclusion. Rahane (CSK), Shardul (KKR), Shami (GT), and Siraj (RCB) gave good performances among the others in the WTC Final 2023, and they all played IPL just a week or so back. So, one can’t blame IPL only for this defeat.
At this point in time, I remember two world cup winners of, India from the past. Long back, Kapil Dev suggested not to play IPL if the Indian cricketers feel pressure (or fatigue) while playing international cricket. Just recently, Ravi Shastri said the same thing differently by emphasizing the selection of what to play and what to ignore by a player. If a player wants to remain fresh for an international series coming soon after IPL, then he should choose not to play the final few matches of the IPL.
But, if you want to play the entire IPL and international cricket both then you should keep your mouth shut and keep performing to put India on the podium during each international series. If you are thinking that IPL is the culprit for Team India not winning any ICC trophies in the last decade or so, then you should also check out how many ICC trophies India brought home before IPL started.
What needs to be changed and addressed?
I am always a big fan of the cricketing acumen of Ravi Shastri, and I have said this many times in the past that he is the best captain India never had. Anyways, you can be constantly critical of what he did during his stint as the Head Coach. We never won a single ICC trophy during his tenure as well, but the approach was different and positive at that time. Most of the time then not, the decisions taken were on the right path. So, you can’t bring him back but can certainly follow his attitude and his style of functioning and try to win the CWC 2023.
When you know three top-order and one lower-order but effective batter of the opposition team are left-handers, you just can’t drop an off-spinner from the playing XI, especially when he is the world’s No 1 Test bowler. Assess the pitch and weather conditions better and decide what to do if we win the toss. I know this is basic, but when masters of cricket can’t think like that, a fan like me has to suggest them.
Now coming to the most critical part of this subject, and that is a united team. For the last few days, Virat Kohli has posted at least two, if not more, cryptic Instagram stories, and they suggest that all is not well within the team. In those stories, Virat is talking about silence more than anything else. Does it mean that he, along with a few senior players, was against the decision of the captain and the coach to bowl first on the first day of the WTC Final 2023 and was not heard enough?
View this post on Instagram
If that is the case, then it’s a worrisome time for Team India as ICC Cricket World Cup is fast approaching, and with such a divided house, we can’t even think of reaching the semi-finals in that tournament. Playing the world cup at home can be a massive advantage for any host nation, and it is more than an advantage if the hosts are India. The differences within the team, if there are any, must be sorted out ASAP so that Team India can play as one unit before and during the upcoming CWC 2023.
For now, for making two blunders like the toss decision and dropping Ashwin from the playing XI, Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid should be summoned to the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai and reprimanded with some harsh words. Both of them should be asked to put the team’s house in order and give a detailed blueprint of how India can win the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 within two weeks’ time.
I will end this blog from the same point I started it. As a staunch Team India fan, defeats don’t hurt much than the way my team accepts or engineers defeats. Without a doubt, one can easily confirm that we have the best batting and bowling lineups that can win in any conditions, so we need to change the approach and mindset towards how we can go ahead in different matches, especially during all-important ICC knockout games.
With you always, Team India, all the best for our future endeavours!
That’s all from me today, till next time it’s Avjo!
12th June 2023, Monday