Do we rate Lionel Messi’s Argentina of 2014 over that of 2022? Because they had reached the final with an all-win record while Germany, who beat them for the World Cup, had dropped two points after a draw against Ghana. In 2022, Argentina lost their opener to Saudi Arabia, only for their talisman to lead them to glory.
Tournament sport can be glorious and cruel. Rohit Sharma’s team were at the receiving end in front of 92,453 supporters at Ahmedabad on Sunday night, eventually left in agony after the loss to Australia, wondering if they will ever be that good again.
In 2011, MS Dhoni’s India lost one and tied one league match, only to bring their A game in the three back-to-back knockout matches as India triumphed for the second time. That’s also what Pat Cummins-led Australia have been able to do.
Spectacular as the class of 2023 was, it will be a mere addition to the list of Indian sides that failed to cross the final hurdle. It’s now been nine ICC events in ten attempts where India have failed to boss the knockout rounds. They were eliminated in the group stages at the 2021 T20 World Cup. For Sharma and head coach Rahul Dravid, brought together to win ICC trophies, have steered India through dominant league stage performances in three tournaments. Unfortunately, each time, across three formats in their two years together, the title remains elusive.
Dravid would not have signed up for the job promising trophies. He understands the vagaries of sport too well and philosophises losses even better. “It’s tough…but that’s sport. It can happen. The sun will come up tomorrow morning,” he said in Ahmedabad on Sunday. “We’ll learn from it. We’ll reflect.”
When he and Sharma, who Dravid said “gave a lot of his personal time and energy to the campaign”, sit out to reflect calmly, they will wonder if any of their plans could have been different. “I didn’t feel at any stage going into this game that there were any nerves or the guys were intimidated,” Dravid said.
What if Rohit had won the toss and bowled first? Runs on the board though is never a bad ploy in a final. But ow could Cummins and the Aussie think-tank read the foreign pitch so accurately? It seemed Australia knew well considering how they dried up India’s runs in the middle overs and coasted to victory, taming the tournament’s most successful bowling attack under lights.
There is still no unanimity over what the par score would have been. Rohit said 30-40 more runs would have been good. Cummins said even “300 might have been tough but achievable”. The Aussie skipper might have been just rubbing it in. But could India’s batters have strived to put the Australia bowlers off in the middle overs?
“We lost wickets just when we felt we built a partnership and we can start going,” said Dravid. He didn’t agree that those partnerships, till the time wickets fell, were too defensive – India scored just two boundaries and scored at 3.9 runs per over between overs 11-40. To another question, he said India “managed (with five bowlers) pretty well, except for probably this final”. Perhaps, the batting group was worried, not just about the long tail but how productive batters Nos. 6 and 7 would be without the injured Hardik Pandya.
Mohammed Shami’s around the wicket record against left-handers may have tempted Rohit to hand him the new ball against Travis Head and Dave Warner, but they may, on hindsight, agree with former Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting’s comment that Mohammed Siraj was rendered ineffective coming on second change. Head’s sensational century then stole the match away.
The explosive left-hander had much the same way taken the World Test Championship final away from India’s grasp on Day 1. That was only five months ago when India’s pacers, without Jasprit Bumrah, allowed Head safe passage without testing him with short balls, seen as his technical weakness. “There was a debate if we should go short and whether the wet Dukes ball would swing. It was decided that the bowlers should bowl full,’ a team member had said after the Oval loss.
Bowling coach Paras Mhambrey had later said it was skipper Rohit’s instinctive call to delay bowling bouncers (Head batted at No.5 and top-scored with 163 off 174 balls). Fine margins, which can prove costly in matches where you see the exit door from the corner of your eye.
It’s widely acknowledged that Indian batters were tame in the T20 World Cup semi-final against England in 2022. Rohit’s decision to go the aggressive route in the powerplays in this World Cup may have stemmed from the manner of that defeat at Adelaide. He walked the talk even in the final, scoring at a strike rate of 151. One will never know if the rest of India’s batters could have done more.