Winning and losing is part and parcel of sports, but the downright abject surrender of the Indian cricket team at the hands of Pakistan in the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy is quite baffling.
We have been the most consistent team in ICC tournaments after our victory in the ODI World Cup in 2011 and this pathetic performance has indeed come like a bolt from the blue.
While there may be many reasons for this loss, the lion’s share probably has to be shared by captain Virat Kohli, who had a really bad day at the office. A look at some of the mistakes he committed…
1) Baffling bowling line-up
There were five matches played at the Kennington Oval before the final in the tournament. In the 10 innings, in only one did a spinner have any role in the match: South African Imran Tahir’s four-wicket haul in the match with Sri Lanka.
In the remaining 9 innings either the fast bowlers got the better of the batsmen at the beginning, or the batsmen went on to dominate in the second half of the innings.
So spinners were not the key. Ravindra Jadeja was just about average in the tournament. Ravichandran Ashwin just about held his ground with South Africa with 1-43 in a low scoring game where he was overshadowed by other bowlers. In the semi-final with Bangladesh, his figures of 0-54 were far from inspiring.
In a pitch that favoured fast bowlers outright, Kohli’s decision to go in with two off-colour spinners despite having a part-timer (Kedar Jadhav) was baffling to say the least. Ashwin should have been dropped and we should have recalled Umesh Yadav or taken Mohammed Shami.
After 6 overs, Bhuvneshwar Kumar had astonishing figures of 1-11 and had he got support from any other fast bowler, then the Pakistani batsmen may have been kept in check.
“Let’s stick to the winning combination” is a lazy approach and doesn’t work all the time. Kohli was guilty of not taking the bowling line-up seriously.
2) We have never won in an ICC final after we’ve elected to field
I remember while watching the 2003 ODI ICC World Cup final on a big screen, when Sourav Ganguly elected to field with the Aussies, half the crowd walked out. In big pressure games it’s difficult to chase.
Indians are great chasers, but you can’t keep pushing your luck too often. India has never won an ICC final when they’ve won the toss and elected to field. Either we have batted first or have been made to field by the opposition.
India had a much superior batting line-up and the Pakistanis didn’t have great spinners. Pakistan had the best fast bowlers of the tournament: Hasan Ali and Junaid Khan. It would have been better to bat first and see off the initial bowling spell, aim for 300 and put the Pakistanis under pressure.
Now Pakistan’s both ODI ICC tournament victories have come while batting first. They are generally abysmal chasers.
3) Couldn’t calm down star performer Bumrah
At the end of 3.1 overs Pakistan was an abysmal 8-1. Then came the shocker that Jasprit Bumrah had bowled a no-ball. That over went for 12 runs and at the end of 4 overs Pakistan were 19-0 and they never looked back after that.
Before the final, Bumrah had taken 26 wickets in 15 ODIs and had a career economy rate of less than 4.5, which is phenomenal. Even in the tournament before the final, Bumrah had an economy rate of just 4.3.
The Pakistan team reacts after the loss of Kohli's wicket.
He was our star performer and he totally lost it after that no ball and he finally went for 7.55 runs per over and he went wicketless. He chose the final to melt down. In the end he bowled 3 no balls and 5 wides.
This is where someone like MS Dhoni used to have a calming effect on his bowlers. Kohli could do nothing and watch as Bumrah virtually threw away the match. He could have immediately taken him off and brought him away from the other end.
Kohli also didn’t have much of a leeway because he went with an extra spinner and was a fast bowler short for the match.
4) Got in Ashwin too early
Ashwin was our out-of-form bowler and also had the added disadvantage of not bowling on a spinning track. However Kohli got him in when Bumrah started to get hit even though Sir Ravindra Jadeja is our most economical bowler and is known to keep the batsmen in check.
Unsurprisingly, Ashwin went for 10 runs in his first over and 8 runs in his second even though Bhuvi had given two runs in two overs at the other end, so we couldn’t keep Pakistani batsmen under pressure.
When Jadeja was brought in, he was initially economical, but by that time it was too late and he was hit towards the end.
5) Our star performer failed with the bat
The way we used to be dependent on Sachin Tendulkar in the 1990s, we have become dependent on Kohli in the 2010s. That way he lasted just 11 balls. Both Kohli and Dhoni are known to start cautiously and be steady for the first 15-20 balls and then hit out.
Instead of saving the batting after the early exit of Rohit Sharma, Kohli ended up precipitating the batting collapse.
6) Generally insipid captaincy
Again Kohli had one of his rough days. From team selection, to making the right call after the toss to bowling changes and field placements: Kohli got nothing right that day. He looked clueless on the field and failed to inspire both his bowlers and batsmen, which is something that a leader has to do with his men.
7) Spat with Kumble may have caught up
When the team is in turmoil, the team does end up crashing from time to time. That’s why even if you look at Pakistan, they may have won that day, but they have many more spectacular crashes than India thanks to their perpetual turmoil.
After the Kapil Dev-Tendulkar-M Azharuddin imbroglio of the late 1990s we had our greatest tournament final crashes ever at Sharjah 2000. Sri Lanka made 299 and India was 54 all down!
After the Greg Chappell-Sourav Ganguly spat, we were kicked out in the first round of the 2007 ODI World Cup after our loss to Bangladesh. (We haven’t lost a single Test-ODI-T20 with them outside Bangladesh after that match!)
This time Kohli brought up the issue of Anil Kumble’s coaching methods before the tournament and split Team India down the middle. It would have been better to have taken up the issue after the tournament.
It is just a theory, but off-field battles do ultimately lead to meltdowns on the field. And boy did we have both a bowling and batting meltdown in the tournament final!