Now that the pundits and fans have had their say about our humiliating exit, here's a round-up of their most popular theses—and a look at the solutions being proposed, including sidelining the biggest names.
England prevailed over Pakistan in the final on Sunday—winning by five wickets in 19 overs. The hero of the day: Ben Stokes who ended the match with an unbeaten 52. Pakistan’s great tragedy: the ligament injury suffered by their magnificent pacer Shaheen Afridi who tore through the English batting in the initial overs. The Guardian has a colourful match report. Indian Express has an interesting piece on how Stokes made a magnificent comeback—with the help of a psychologist. You can see the winning moment below:
There were plenty of memes going viral, but this (faux) Rishi Sunak clip is our favourite:
Now, onto the autopsy. While there were the usual recriminations over our ghastly ten-wicket loss to England in the semifinals, there was also bewilderment. Even the most talented Indian sides have failed to score an ICC cup win since 2013:
But here’s the funny thing: We haven’t come close to a T20 cup since 2014, and yet our record in the format is impressive. India has won 26 of the last 35 T20Is—and haven’t lost a single one-on-one T20I series since 2021. Barring the drawn series against South Africa in June, our success rate is 100%.
So wtf is happening? Former captain and motormouth-in-chief Kapil Dev says the team simply loses its nerve in the big games:
"I will not go into the details and slam them because these are the same players who have gotten us a lot of respect in the past but yes, we can call them chokers. That's okay. There is no denying it—after coming so close, they choke."
Former England captain Michael Vaughan was just as harsh: “I’m just staggered by how they play T20 cricket for the talent they have.” Here’s how he summed it up in his Telegraph column:
“India have to be honest now. What happens when India arrive at a World Cup? Everyone plays them up. Nobody wants to criticise them because you get hammered on social media and pundits worry about losing work in India one day. But it is time to tell it straight. They can hide behind their great players but it is about getting a team playing the right way as a whole. Their bowling options are too few, they do not bat deep enough and lack spin tricks.”
Inevitably, every spectacular loss brings with it demands for (new) blood. And anonymous sources in the cricket board (BCCI) are already promising to deliver: "You will not see most of the seniors playing T20 next year.” Most pundits have also trotted out the same line—gotta let the oldies go. That’s code for Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin et al. Our greatest stars are not just old, but downright ‘old-fashioned’:
“A playing XI with Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, R Ashwin and Mohammad Shami has an aura of intimidation, but only on paper. No self-respecting IPL analysts, or even the wise punters, would bunch them together for a T20 game. These are exceptional world beating white-ball cricketers. Come 2023 and the ODI World Cup and the world can fear them again. In the game’s shortest format though, they looked old fashioned.”
Translation: Most people are arguing we need to build a T20 team from scratch—with “new blood.” We need to get rid of ageing fogeys who tend to dig in during the Power Play—the first six overs of the innings when only two fielders are allowed outside the 30-yard circle—and bring in the big hitters who play “without fear.” The damning stats from the semifinal reveal that India scored only 38 runs during the Power Play—compared to England’s 63.
Point to note: None of this criticism is new. When India failed to make the knockout stage in the 2021 T20 World Cup, the analysts arrived at the same conclusion:
“India’s first-choice top three — Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli — was always going to be a risky proposition. More than lack of a left-hander, the trio’s tendency to get themselves in before going after the bowlers is an outdated ploy in the dynamic world of T20 cricket.”
There was similar grumbling about India playing “an outdated brand of T20 cricket” after the Asia Cup debacle.
This time around, the selectors may indeed start wielding the axe—starting with the captain. Sharma has had a dreadful T20 tournament year—which included leading the Mumbai Indians to a rock-bottom finish to this year’s IPL season. And his head will likely be first in line. A BCCI official told InsideSport:
“Rohit will be rotated and rested constantly for big series and ICC tournaments. But one cannot rotate a captain too many times. Since T20s will not be in focus, we have to phase out Rohit gradually when someone like Hardik [Pandya] is ready to take the charge full-time.”
Yes, Pandya is the hot flavour in town—namechecked as Sharma’s successor by Sunil Gavaskar and Harbhajan Singh. Everyone will be watching how he performs in his new role as captain in the upcoming T20 series against New Zealand.
The other reason: to switch up the captaincy is Sharma’s own performance. As Farokh Engineer points out, since taking over theT20 captaincy, Rohit has scored just 656 runs in 29 matches—with only three half-centuries at a modest average of 24.29.
But, but, but: Sharma’s T20 record as a captain has otherwise been stellar—35 wins in 45 games—and 17 victories in just this year. As one ESPNCricinfo pundit asks, should we really be judging the quality of a team or a captain based on a single knockout match?
“When it comes to India, the record of their top three in knockout matches is considered a qualifier against their quality as batters. What really happens - as it does in other matches - is that they make about the same proportion of mistakes but in these matches the mistakes have tended to bring about their dismissal. Eight matches in nine years is too rare an occurrence to develop any patterns.”
One vs many: The rising trend in cricket is deploying different leaders for different formats (T20, ODI, Test). India has embraced the idea of switching up its captains—which have included Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant, and Shikhar Dhawan. But former cricketer Ajay Jadeja thinks it is a big mistake to split the leadership: “Ghar ka ek hi buzurg hona chahiye, saat buzurg honge toh bhi dikkat hai” (There should only be one leader in the home. If there are seven, it is difficult). Also: Sharma didn’t spend a lot of time with the team this year—thanks to the rotating captaincy.
Rotate the coach? OTOH, there are others who argue that it is time to give coach Rahul Dravid a rest. He was not a successful IPL captain when he led the Rajasthan Royals. And there are questions being raised about his “conservative” mindset and team selection:
“Stubborn has been a convenient adjective to describe Dravid’s various roles in Indian cricket. Stubborn summed up his resolute batting. It also couched the criticism about his mostly conservative captaincy and, in the wake of the World T20 semi-final loss, his unreasonably obstinate coaching approach. Like all greats, Dravid has a mind of his own and unflattering conviction. As a coach and captain that’s not always a healthy trait.”
It wouldn’t be unprecedented to vary the coach by format. England already has Matthew Mott as their white ball head coach—while Brendon McCullum is in charge of the Test squad. And it seems to have worked very well for them.
No one in India will ever come out and point fingers at the almighty cricket board. But veterans like Wasim Akram have flagged this inconvenient fact: India has never won a T20 world cup since the launch of the Indian Premier League. Our last victory was in 2007—and the IPL kicked off in 2008.
What’s the possible connection? The BCCI does not allow its golden geese Indian players to play in other international T20 leagues. That may be a big loss for the boys in blue, says Shoaib Malik: “...IPL is big enough for young players to gain that exposure. But playing in different conditions, that actually makes a difference.”
Australian cricketer Tom Moody points out that other players—who are part of the Big Bash in Australia or the Carribean League—have a critical advantage when it's crunch time:
“It seems like a number of these players who are playing around the world are getting really important experience from playing these domestic tournaments that they can then tap into and feel a lot more comfortable. You look at the CPL, which becomes more important with the next World Cup being there in the Caribbean, and how many players can you get put into that tournament to get an idea of conditions. It is an advantage. Young players may be more so than the guys who have been a bit longer in the tooth. [English cricketer Jonny] Bairstow is a great example. They can still keep getting better because you keep learning from these environments.”
Quote to note: Dravid, however, defended the BCCI policy—even while conceding that English players had the Big Bash advantage during the tournament. As Dravid points out, the Big Bash League takes place in the middle of our domestic season:
"Our domestic first-class trophy, our Ranji Trophy, would be finished, and that would mean Test cricket would be finished… I know a lot of people talk about it , but we have to be very careful when… we have to understand the challenges that Indian cricket faces or the BCCI would face in a situation like this."
Point to note: The BCCI may well change its mind—and for one good reason: most of the teams in newer leagues in South Africa and the Caribbean have been bought by IPL owners. Indian franchise owners are already dreaming of creating a single global squad—poaching from every other league:
“What we want to create is a common platform and a system and a culture that allows us to participate around the year—enhancing our brand, building our fan base, and providing opportunities to cricketers around the world. And in the process, you build hopefully a successful business around it.”
But it is unlikely the board will ever let its star cricketers play in any other league—because it would be bad for IPL business, as one official made clear:
“It’s good to see the growing footprints of IPL all over the world. But we should not forget that it is because of the Indian players that the IPL is so popular. It is the only league where fans can watch them play. If they start playing in other leagues, it will only increase the viewers’ fatigue. It won’t be exclusive anymore.”
The bottomline: The problem with Indian cricket is always the same: too much money, too much politicking and too many egos. The real miracle: we still love the game and our boys in blue—despite all the shor sharaba.
ESPNCricinfo has two good pieces: this interview with Moody, Anil Kumble and Stephen Fleming on India’s loss; and this critique of the overweening focus on the knockout cup games. Indian Express and News9 take aim at Dravid’s coaching. For more on the Power Play critique, check out Scroll and Indian Express. The Print takes aim at Indian batting, as well. For all our focus on the national team, Indian cricket’s real problems lie in the domestic leagues—where politics often nips great talent in the bud. Firstpost has more on how that happens. Free Press Journal reminds us that arbitrary team selection—or firings—are a time-honoured Indian cricket tradition.
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