After the test series, the Indian cricket team were scheduled to play the Carlton mid tri-series against Australia and England. It was another disappointing outing for the men in blue as they failed to register a single victory in the tri series. With the ICC Cricket world cup round the corner, the Indian cricket team received much criticism from fans and former players alike.
Then came the much awaited cricket extravaganza and yet India did not seem to be in its usual colour. They finally found their feet at the warm-up game against Afghanistan and were ready for the tournament.
Indian cricket team’s fantastic turnaround at the ICC world cup:
“Kohli’s the man, mate. He’s Australian, ain’t it?”
– Opening match of the ICC World Cup, Australia vs England, MCG
80,000 people crowded into the MCG, the hosts thumping their traditional rivals, with every boundary and wicket cheered like it is the last. It is a magnificent opening day of the World Cup. On occasions like this, you cannot but run into the typical Australian cricket fanatic. I find and chat with one such person during the match, and our conversation veers to the Indian cricket team. I ask him who his favourite Indian player is. Over the din of the crowd, with a hint of the alcohol lacing his thoughts, he shoots back, without a moment’s hesitation, that it is Kohli.
Over the last four months, the stature of Virat Kohli has grown tremendously on the international cricket scene. He was already established as one of the leading ODI batsmen of the generation. But this tour has seen his emergence as an overseas Test batsman, and his debut as an Indian Test captain. And he has done it all in his own aggressive, brash manner. He has played the Australians at their own game, played it well, and in the process, won their hearts.
The Australian public have a lot of respect for Indian batsmen in general. The most generic cricket conversation will reveal a reverential admiration for the skills and talents of Tendulkar, Laxman and Dravid. But these players are still seen as a uniquely foreign experience, batsmen who play the exotic ‘Indian way’. Kohli, however, plays the ‘Australian way’. He won’t back down from a fight, will respond to challenges with aggression, has the skills to do so, and is not shy of speaking his mind. For the Australian fan, it is easy to call him one of their own.
“I would gladly have your batsmen in exchange for our bowlers.”
– Second week, the ICC World Cup
I am in a taxi, and strike up a conversation with the driver, who hails from Pakistan. We discuss our respective countries’ progress so far in the tournament. At this stage, India had beaten Pakistan in their opening encounter and were undefeated. Pakistan were yet to register a victory after a second dispiriting loss, and looked to be in danger of crashing out at the group stage.
It is obvious that my Pakistani friend is truly distressed. He opines long and sadly on what is wrong with Pakistani cricket today. He talks about corruption in the PCB, about the misuse of influence in team selection, about the lack of structure in domestic cricket. He rues the absence of quality batsmen, and when I try to cheer him up by mentioning Pakistan’s track record of producing excellent bowlers, he says he would rather swap his bowlers for our batsmen. Now that is one thought that TV news channels ought to spend their time debating. We bid farewell that day, wishing each other’s team well in the competition. He accepts my wishes with an air of resignation.
In the subsequent weeks, Pakistan came springing back into the competition, led by Wahab Riaz, and ably supported by the likes of Sohail Khan, Mohammed Irfan and Misbah-ul-Haq. In a tournament otherwise dominated by the bat, Pakistan conjured up miraculous performances with the ball that set the World Cup alight. I often think back to my conversation with the Pakistani cab driver. I wonder what he thinks about his team now. Surely, he must be feeling better. Perhaps, the Pakistan team have already exceeded his expectations. And surely, he cannot still want to exchange his bowlers for anything. They are like gold dust in today’s cricket world.
“The key difference between the two teams in this match has been in the fast bowling department”
– ICC World Cup, 2nd Semi-Final, India vs Australia, SCG
Mitchell Johnson has just knocked over Rohit Sharma’s stumps, after being hit for a six on the previous delivery. It feels like the killer blow for India’s World Cup chances. Rahul Dravid is in the television commentary box. He also seems to think it is curtains for India, and comes up with this observation on what has separated the two teams.
You have to agree with the assessment to an extent, but I also find it ironic. The Indian fast bowling outfit has for long been a much-maligned unit, especially when travelling abroad. This tour has been no different. Throughout the Test series, the batsmen were setting the match up for the team, only for the bowlers to give away the advantage. On the occasions when they did cause problems to the Australian batsmen, they were not consistent enough to maintain pressure. They were always striving, but it did not seem fair to expect this Indian bowling unit to take 20 Australian wickets in a Test match.
Compare that to the consistent, wicket-taking Indian outfit that turned up for the World Cup. Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma were suddenly attacking, intelligent bowlers, hunting in a pack. So much so, that after seven matches in the tournament, they had bowled out the opposition all seven times. From being the butt of jokes, the Indian pace bowling had become the key to the team’s success.
Reason enough for optimism perhaps, when India took on Australia one last time for the summer, in the World Cup semi-final. Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan for India, and the bowling was brought down to ground.
In a sense, the summer ended the way it had begun for the Indian cricket team, with a familiar loss to Australia. In the interim, they played some engrossing, tough, Test match draws, disappeared for a while in the ODI triangular, came back as defending champions to remain unbeaten in the World Cup group stages, before bowing out to a familiar foe.
Over the summer, the Indian cricket team had learnt to win in Australia. But they had still failed to win against Australia.