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Nishant Majithia

The moment India lost to Pakistan in their opening game on 24th October, the daggers were out and the team was subjected to a lot of hate. The title favourites were suddenly in a very precarious position. As if losing to arch rivals against whom the Indians were hitherto unbeaten wasn’t enough, their next game with a team against whom they have been historically poor at ICC events, virtually became a must win game because of the way the Groups were stacked. The inevitable happened in the next game. The team played uncharacteristically poorly under the immense pressure and succumbed to the Kiwis. With 3 more games to go, Indians were out of the semifinal race already, almost.

There are two types of Indian Cricket fans during world events. 1) Beat Pakistan even if you lose the Cup. 2) Win the Cup, nothing else matters. Unfortunately, the Indian team had irked both types of fans in the first two games itself. There was trolling, name calling and abuse for team India. The fact that the team made some tactical changes in the game against NZ did not go down well with anybody and clinical dissection of the team began. Everything from the religion of Shami to the IPL was seen as a reason for failure. I have heard a lot of such discussions on various platforms and thus thought there was a need for a Devil’s Advocate here. So here, I will try to give my two cents to this entire scenario and try to make sense of things.

HOW FAIR IS THE CRITICISM?

If you have observed the World Cup keenly, you will realise that majority of the criticism is a knee-jerk reaction. Practically, India played just one bad game, the one against New Zealand. Pakistan were fantastic on the day and outdid India’s brilliant recovery. Babar Azam and Rizwan played chanceless knocks and gave India no chance. And in the remaining games, India absolutely demolished the opponents. Yes, they were supposedly smaller teams but whatever slim chance India had to make it through depended heavily on beating each team by a huge margin. To produce the kind of results India did, under the kind of pressure they were in, is absolutely commendable. Comparing this with the 2007 World Cup exit is also not fair as the reason behind India’s first round exit then was largely their defeat at the hands of a much inferior Bangladesh.

BLAMING EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN 

I am not even going to the absurdity of Shami’s religion being blamed or India’s defeat being celebrated by so-called Indians after Kohli came out in Shami’s support. People went on to blame the IPL. The only thing about the IPL that can be blamed is the fact that it was staged just before the World Cup. However, even that is neutralized by the fact that it actually helped players get used to the conditions in the UAE. Players from other teams have benefitted from it and they have openly acknowledged that as well. So, blaming IPL 2021 makes no sense. Blaming IPL as a whole is even more stupid. IPL as a system has worked brilliantly. Most players playing for the country today are either products of the IPL or they have been polished by it. IPL keeps producing brilliant talent and people in good form in the IPL have been propelled to national selection as well.

SPLITTING ROHIT-RAHUL, A TACTICAL BLUNDER?

Almost everybody has criticized that move against the Kiwis. But I want to take a closer look at it. T20 cricket is a dynamic game where shuffling the batting order is not as big a deal. In fact, teams who have flexible batting orders tend to fare better. In my opinion, the move to open with Ishan Kishan was obvious and dropping Rohit Sharma down was tactically a brilliant move. Considering Rohit’s troubles against left arm pacers, shielding him from one of the best in the world in such an important game was pretty much a sensible thing to do. That it didn’t work out well is a different story altogether. Had the move worked, the same people who criticized it would have called it a brave and excellent thought. The only thing is I would have preferred Kohli to bat 3 and Rohit to bat 4 in the game.

SO, WHAT WENT WRONG?

Now that a lot of criticism has been discarded by me, it is also essential to point out what went wrong.

•    Starting Eleven: To start with, Ravi Ashwin should have been in the starting eleven. Playing Hardik despite the fact that he wasn’t fit to bowl was not the right thing to do. Ishan Kishan should have played in his place.

•    Too much hype around beating Pakistan: The chest thumping with the Mauka Mauka campaigns, statements like walkover match and the overall hype around the India-Pakistan match is one of the reasons. There was so much hype around it that even the broadcasters thought it was wise to discuss that match in the pre, post and mid innings shows of other matches in the qualifying stage, completely ignoring the match at hand. It was a kind of disrespect to the ongoing matches. So, with so much hype around the game, losing that match deflated the team and they were visibly on the backfoot in the next match which was the most important one for them in the tournament.

•    A bit of luck: Yes, luck plays a part too. The fact that toss was so crucial in the night games shows how much luck plays a part. The toss in the first two matches was very crucial. Also, the fact that this was supposedly an easier group didn’t work well for India. The fact that it was a race between India, Pakistan and NZ for qualification resulted in one bad match being responsible for India’s ouster.

Yes, when the team accepts all the love of the fans, they are supposed to endure criticism as well is true. But the criticism has to be fair and the kind of hate that they suddenly were subjected to must be avoided. Things go wrong for the best of teams and this time around it was India who messed up what could have been a dream end to Kohli’s T20I captaincy. But it was not to be. So, fans of the Indian team, chin up and wait for them to bounce back. The next World Cup is not far away.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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