The cup that slipped: Here are some cricket lessons my country of citizenship can teach my country of origin (Times of India 3-8-19)

Aug 12, 2019

As an Indian, after the semi-final loss in the Cricket World Cup, an old refrain from a 1948 song entered my head: ‘Ek dil ke tukde hazaar huye’ (one heart shattered into a thousand shards). As a Kiwi, after the final’s loss, came the second line: ‘Koyi yahan gira, koyi wahan gira’ (some fell hither, some thither). Yes, a match for the ages! But oh, aren’t the ICC geniuses who chose the worst possible option for deciding the championship in case of a tie certifiably stupid? England’s triumph – their first World Cup victory – had its beginnings immediately after their disastrous match against NZ in Wellington four years ago. They consciously modelled a future team around NZ’s spirit of adventure; chose captain, coach, team and tactics accordingly; and honed the skills and players over four long years of preparation. Does the BCCI have the wisdom, will and wit to do the same and begin preparing now for 2023 – when India hosts the championship – or will it retreat into familiar alibis and procrastination?

The nation has the talent; the selectors lack the judgment. There is too much emphasis on match-winning potential of glamorous stars, not enough on performance consistency and mental strength. For champion teams, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. For India’s star-studded team, when the going got tough, the boys in blue folded. Or, to return to the metaphor, the stars fell down to earth from the heavens in a flaming shower of shattered hopes. ‘India had the stars, New Zealand had the team,’ said the BBC. NZ’s 4.5 million people are just a counting error in India’s 1.3 billion population. India’s national passion is cricket, NZ’s is rugby. The mystique, money, talent and celebrity status belong to the mighty All Blacks. Cricket gets the crumbs. But how efficiently and effectively do they marshal them to maximum effect!

Pretty much a universal reaction among all cricket fans: if their own nation didn’t win, they would rather NZ won than any other country. Captain Kane Williamson is so unassuming that he wouldn’t make waves even if he fell out of a boat. As the BBC put it, ‘Williamson could turn up at Lord’s in his tracksuit and still need to show ID to get past the stewards.’ NZ had the lowest average opening stand of any team in the tournament. Including the final, Williamson had to bat inside the first ten overs in eight innings. He hit a mere three sixes compared to Rohit Sharma’s 14, Aaron Finch’s 18, and Eoin Morgan’s 22. Yet Williamson’s average was a staggering 91 and he scored nearly a third of NZ’s total runs. By contrast, in six World Cup knockout games, Virat Kohli averages a shocking 12. India should copy Australia and England and choose captains for courses, make Rohit the ODI captain and free Kohli to focus solely on his magical batting.

A Cricinfo graphic shows England’s biggest individual contributor was Joe Root. While others hit towering sixes that bring the crowds to their feet, Root accumulates with quiet efficiency and keeps the scoreboard ticking. The percentage of dot balls versus scoring shots – along with overall control factor and strike rate – must be an important criterion in team selection and coaching. India should learn to choose players based on conditions, circumstances, team balance and consistency of performance. Use three years to try different combinations. Then groom the probables with big match exposure in the final year before the next tournament. Meanwhile the ICC faces a crucial choice. Wisdom and courage would see it address the farcical final result, exacerbated by match-determining umpiring errors, and declare NZ joint winners as the least unfair outcome. England cannot be so ungracious as to object to sharing the trophy and the glory. Or the ICC can shy away from the challenge and let the result stand in history as an enduring monument to administrators’ idiocy, compounded by cowardice.

This article was pubished by Times of India on the 3rd of August 2019. 

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