Sports

India Team's T20 Triumph Shows That It's Steadiness That Works In Frenzied Cricket

K Balakumar

Jun 30, 2024, 06:40 PM | Updated 07:23 PM IST

India wins T20 World Cup 2024
India wins T20 World Cup 2024
  • The victorious run of Rohit Sharma's team is an outcome of a long thoughtfully planned process in which the IPL games were key 
  • In the popular Netflix series Kota Factory Season 3, one of the students, worn out by the tough entrance examination for IIT, has a mental breakdown and a fevered outburst against the whole system that seems to drain the life out of young students. One of the teachers pacifies him with words to the effect that if the process of selecting students is not stringent enough, how can they separate the wheat from the chaff?

    Well, at the end of the IPL 2024 last month, if any of the bowlers had a similar effusion of emotion at the unfairness of the format that seemed to make things hellish for any kind of bowler, you would not have been surprised.

    It was a season when 200+ run scores were consistently under par, and 250+ scores were just about adequate. But at the end of the day, the IPL too is a kind of entrance test for the tougher life in the World Cup. If the IPL had not been that soul-suckingly difficult, would it have thrown up bowlers like Jasprit Bumrah, Arshdeep Singh, Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja who got India into, well, an IIT (International ICC Trophy)?

    Diamonds are unearthed only in the heat and hammering inside dark tunnels. So, it is for Indian cricket. 

    The story of the finals in which Indian bowlers heroically defended 30 runs off 30 balls against a marauding well-set South African batsmen was verily the story of this T20 World Cup itself.

    Save for the relatively first two easy matches against Ireland and the USA, India batted first in all its matches — the emotional humdinger against Pakistan, the three Super 8 matches, the semi-final and the final. And in all of them, the Indian bowling unit rose to the occasion in a manner that almost put to lie the fact that this format is for the batters.

    Bowlers are born in the death overs 

    Against Pakistan on the drop-in pitch at New York, the Indian bowlers were called to safeguard a measly 119 runs. Till the end of 10 overs in its batting innings, Pak was well on top. And then the triumvirate of Bumrah (3/14), Pandya (2/24) and Arshdeep (1/31) got down to work in ways that can only be described as magical and stopped Pakistan numbingly six runs short. It was an exhibition of skill of the highest level when the pressure was at its highest. Don't let anyone tell you that this ability was not forged and burnished at the heat of the IPL lathe.  

    Against Afghanistan and Bangladesh, the Indian batters did build impressive scores upfront for the bowlers to have a decent cushion while defending. But against the old bete noire Australia, India was again in a tricky spot. It had put up 206, which may have seemed enough in a World Cup where the pitches and the atmospheric conditions did offer some assistance to the bowlers. But Australia is a champion side with batters who don't step back and play, both literally and figuratively, on the front foot.

    Travis Head, India's bugbear in the 2023 50-over World Cup finals on the fateful night of 19 November in Ahmedabad last year, was again at it. With Glenn Maxwell for company, the counterattacking merchants were in full blaze. But again, this set of Indian bowlers who also are not willing to even an inch got down to chip away methodically. In the end, wicket-taking spells from Arshdeep Singh (3/37) and Kuldeep Yadav (2/24) meant India was the winner by a margin of 24 runs, which at this point seemed improbable. The victory against Australia was, in a sense, an exorcism of some old and new demons.  

    In the semi-finals against England at the Providence Stadium in Guyana, once the batters set the tone by putting up a formidable score (171) on a tricky pitch, the bowlers, who had fine rhythm, were always going to be in charge. But this time, the bowlers led the charge.

    Kuldeep and Axar scalped three wickets each while Bumrah bagged two more and the horror of Adelaide 2022 was answered back in the same vein. England all out for 103 in 16.4 overs was a rout for ages. 

    On the night of a high-pressure final when India was looking down the barrel, the players did not panic. Their self-belief did not diminish as they hung in there hoping for a small opening. Upon getting that, the bowlers just kept kicking relentlessly, till the opening was turned into one gaping hole for the South Africans to fall into and die tragically.

    Those last 30 overs can be showcased in Louvre

    Every one of you by now would know the sequence of the last 30 balls of the pulsating contest at Barbados by heart. But it deserves to be looked at again and again: 1, 2, 0, 0, 1, 0, W, 0, 1, 1, 1, 1, 0, 0, 1, W, 0, 1, 0, 0, 1, 2, 1, 0, 0, 4, B1, L1, WD, W, 1.

    Call your kids and tell them to look at its beauty as if it is a Fibonacci series. Get them to watch on a loop Bumrah and Co. bowling in that phase. In those death overs, cricket history was born. The only boundary in the last five overs was one through an unintended, streaky shot from Kagiso Rabada. This kind of control and consistency belongs to Test cricket. To pull this off in the slam-bang world of T20 is nothing sort of a miracle. 

    But miracles don't happen by themselves. It is not a divine deliverance. It is an outcome of a long thoughtfully planned process. This is the first T20 World Cup in which the champion team has not dropped a single game. In the last two ICC World Cup trophies (50-over and T20), India has played 20 matches and won 18 of them. One was washed out and the only one loss was the infamous final against Australia. If this is not domination and consistency, tell us what is?

    The popular complaint was that ever since IPL was born in 2008, India did not triumph at the T20 World Cup. That was indeed a fact till last night. But the narrative seemed to suggest that the IPL somehow made the Indian players more tired and defensive. 

    After the first T20 World Cup in South Africa in 2007, India did go out by the second round of the tournaments held in England (2009), West Indies (2010) and Sri Lanka (2012). But since then, India has been very consistent with the only blip coming in the 2021 Corona-affected edition in UAE, where it again went out in round two.

    But in all other editions, India was semi-finalist (twice) and runner-up (once). The very nature of the format makes consistent winning tough. But India along with England and West Indies are the only ones to have won this tournament twice. So, IPL is not the villain that it has been made out of in some narratives. On the contrary, it has been the assembly line shaping and shepherding India's cricketing riches. 

    India's consistency in T20 sensational

    But the most revealing stat in the T20 World Cups is that India is the most consistent team, having played the most number of matches, winning the most number of matches and, more crucially also having the best winning percentage. India has played 52 matches overall, won 35 of them and lost 15, with one ending in a tie and one being washed out. 

    England has also played 52 matches but has managed to be successful in 28. India's winning percentage is a healthy 69.60 — the highest among all teams. The closest to this is South Africa, which has been victorious in 32 of its 49 matches (winning percentage of 66.6 per cent). But it has never been the title winner.

    That brings us to the C word. Did the Proteas choke? They sure bottled it when the victory line was within its eyeline. There is only a small difference between the champions and chokers — the all-important chill hand at the trigger. That the South Africans despite winning a good number of matches at the World Cup made it to the finals only this time, where again they botched it, suggests that they indeed have a problem in keeping their inner jitters quiet.

    India flunked it at Ahmedabad. If it had repeated it at Barbados last night, the chokers tag would have been theirs. But their show made the 50-over finals look like an aberration. That is the hallmark of a champion side.

    The rest of the world will try to belittle or dilute India's stupendous achievement. Some will churlishly claim that India's matches were scheduled favourably. This is too silly a charge to even deserve a rebuttal. Some others will saltily say that the pitches were made to suit the Indian bowlers. Heck, the fact is that India had bowlers who exploit any pitch.

    Arshdeep was the joint-highest wicket-taker (along with Afghanistan's Fazalhaq Farooqi) with 17 wickets each. Bumrah was the second in the list at 15. India bowled out four teams in the tournament — Ireland, Afghanistan, Australia and England.  India was bowled out just once — against Pakistan. But still, India emerged victorious with a bravura bowling show.

    A strong hand is an outcome of a steady mind 

    India has been able to whip up consistency in its performance because it was consistent in its thinking. India made just a single change to its team composition for the entirety of the tournament (Siraj was replaced from the pace-friendly USA by Kuldeep in the spin-conducive surroundings of West Indies). 

    There would have been a temptation to axe Shivam Dube when his returns with the bat were less than flattering. But he played a crucial hand in the finals. There would have been pressure on the management to ask Rohit Sharma to change his batting approach. But he persevered with that and helped in the wins against Australia and England. Virat Kohli hung in there despite criticism of his methods, and he was the highest scorer in the final and also the man of the match. Ditto with persisting with Axar as an attacking batsman. His belligerent innings nicely balanced Kohli's anchoring efforts on the night of the final.

    Rohit's captaincy and Rahul Dravid's coaching mindset was clutter-free and clear-eyed. Players were identified for specific roles and given set purposes. The fear of failure and resultant pressure was practically erased in the players' minds. That is why on a night when he failed with the bat, Suryakumar Yadav could still have the wits about himself to pull off that magical catch at the boundary that all but secured the World Cup for India.

    It was a fielding effort that was all about presence of mind. It was as much the skill of the physical body as it was of the stillness of the nerve. The same ability was behind — Bumrah's precision yorkers, Arshdeep's slower ones, Pandya's low-dipping wide ones, Kuldeep's loopy turners and Axar's flat-trajectory bolts.

    Already there is a talk that the T20 title triumph will open the floodgates for a more sustained dominance by India in white ball cricket. Rohit and Kohli are gone from the Indian T20 scheme of things. There is no more Rahul Dravid as the coach. But still, there are enough pointers that India will continue in this successful vein for some more time, for it seems to have mastered the one thing that is the most effective for the frenzy of T20 — steadiness. In mind and method.

    It is also, verily, Bumrah. 


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