Tripping over the last hurdle

- November 22, 2023
| By : Khurram Habib |

India were undoubtedly the best side in the just-concluded Cricket World Cup, winning all the league matches and the semi-final, but when it came to the all-important final, they faltered with both bat and ball

Australia captain Pat Cummins lifts the Cricket World Cup with teammates after winning the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup India 2023 Final between India and Australia at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad. (Photo: Getty)

In the past 10 years, India have been the most consistent team in International Cricket Council (ICC) tournaments, qualifying for the knockout stage every time except once in 2021 T20 World Cup. However, the trophy remained a holy grail as the team always failed to clear the crucial last phase.

But this time, before India took on Australia in the Cricket World Cup final at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Motera, Ahmedabad, on November 19, there were big expectations that the trophy would finally come to India, partly because Rohit Sharma’s boys had won all the 10 games in the lead-up to the final convincingly and that this tournament was being played at home, where India were well-versed with conditions, and the final at a venue where the one lakh-plus crowd could unnerve the opposition.

However, the Australians were fully prepared. They had planned almost every aspect to perfection and defeated India comfortably by six wickets in the final with Travis Head scoring 137.

The crowd that had enthusiastically entered the stadium in the morning, raising slogans on the road as well as in the Ahmedabad metro, cut a sorry figure after the loss and poured out of the stadium immediately unable to take the defeat. Few stayed back to even acknowledge the champion team at the presentation ceremony. The scene in the metro at night and at the Ahmedabad airport in the early hours was one of shock and disappointment, with many discussing what went wrong.

It had been yet another failure for the national team in the match that mattered the most.

India have now lost in the knockout phase of nine of the 10 ICC tournaments they have played since their Champions Trophy triumph in 2013. This includes two World Test Championship finals.

The title drought for arguably the strongest team in white-ball and red-ball cricket began in T20 World Cup in 2014, when the MS Dhoni-led side lost to Sri Lanka in the final. Dhoni, who had led India to 2011 50-over Cricket World Cup triumph, once again was at the helm when India lost the 2015 Cricket World Cup semi-final to Australia and the 2016 T20 World Cup semifinal to West Indies.

India, under Virat Kohli, lost the Champions Trophy final in 2017 to Pakistan, the 2019 Cricket World Cup semi-final in 2019 to New Zealand before failing to clear the 2021 T20 World Cup’s league stage and losing the inaugural World Test Championship final to New Zealand.

Under Rohit Sharma, India lost the 2022 T20 World Cup semi-final to England by 10 wickets, the World Test Championship final in 2023 to Australia and last week’s final of Cricket World Cup to Australia in Ahmedabad.

So, change in captaincy hasn’t brought any luck.

Also, it is not one team that has had the measure of India.

In the ICC tournaments’ knockout phase or final, India have lost to Australia thrice, New Zealand twice, Pakistan, England, West Indies and Sri Lanka once each.

Rahul Dravid, who was head coach during three such losses, admitted he is yet to discover any reason for this failure in knockout phase or final.

“I guess if I knew the answer, I would say that. But no, I think, to be honest, I don’t know. I’ve been involved in three now, one semi-final (T20 World Cup in 2022), and the World Test Championship [final], and this one as well,” said Dravid after the loss to Australia.

The 50-year-old, a former India captain and batsman, said he cannot pinpoint any one problem for the failure.

“I just think we haven’t played really well on the day. I mean, I thought we were a bit short in Adelaide, in the semi-final. We lost the first day in the World Test Championship, unfortunately. We didn’t bowl particularly well after Australia were three down there. And here we didn’t bat well enough in the first [innings]. So, yeah, there’s not one particular reason you can pin it down to.”

Could this be mental or failure to control emotions on the day that matters. Since that alone explains the loss to various teams in crucial stages.

Dravid refused to buy into that.

“It is not that. I did not feel at any stage going into this game that there were any nerves or the guys were intimidated by the game or they were concerned about the game. I think they were looking forward to it. We were excited about the game. I thought there was energy, and the mental space the boys were in leading into this particular game was spot-on [and] was terrific. Just on the day we probably didn’t execute, and Australia played better than us,” he said.

India captain Rohit Sharma with Virat Kohli after losing the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup India 2023 Final between India and Australia at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad. (Photo: Getty)

Former India all-rounder Kirti Azad, himself a Cricket World Cup-winner in 1983, said that India didn’t just play well enough on the day.

“Irresponsible batting and erratic bowling,” said Azad to Patriot.

“It (India not winning a trophy in 10 years despite making finals or semi-finals) happens. Only one team out of the four qualifying for the semi-finals can win the title. Just that India haven’t been that team in all these knockout games.”

He then pointed to India’s failure in the final at Ahmedabad.

“I thought, in this particular match, Rohit Sharma should have stayed on and played a bigger knock since it was hard for the new batsman to come in and score quickly. He was settled and therefore, had a better idea of the pitch. Also, in bowling, the captain had been giving the new ball to Mohammed Siraj but then suddenly in the final, he gave it to Shami, who couldn’t control it,” explained Azad further.

India’s next challenge at an ICC event is the T20 World Cup in the West Indies and USA next year.

India’s High 

Despite the loss, India remained the most successful team ahead of the final, winning all 10 matches, including the semi-final. In a format where teams play each other once, a 100% record in league phase is unparalleled. No team put up such a flawless record in 1992 and 2019, the two times this format was followed before. 

Here are a look at India’s performers:

Rohit Sharma’s charge:

The India skipper ended as the second highest run-getter in the tournament, scoring 597 runs in 11 matches. However, it wasn’t the amount of runs but the way he scored that mattered. He provided the early quick, charge in the first powerplay stage to demoralise the opposition. That often meant playing shots constantly and the risk mostly resulted in failure to build a big innings. It helped in so far as the batsmen coming after him, like Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer or KL Rahul, played a big knock. But when they couldn’t, like in the final, the strategy fell flat. In hindsight, some caution after powerplay in the final may have been wiser. But then, it had worked well so far so why change in the final. 

Virat Kohli, the run machine: 

The right-handed batsman effected changes in ODI record books during the tournament, first equalling Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 49 centuries and then bettering it by scoring his third ton in 2023 Cricket World Cup to become the first to get to 50 centuries in ODIs. Kohli also ended with 765 runs in 11 matches, the highest in a single edition of a World Cup. He went past Tendulkar’s mark of 673 runs scored in 2003 in South Africa. However, when it was required for him to score yet another ton in the final, he fell for 54 off 63 balls. Kohli won the Player of the tournament award.

Mohammed Shami’s return with a bang:

Pace bowler Mohammed Shami was ignored for the first four matches of India’s campaign but once he got a chance due to Hardik Pandya’s injury, he made an impression immediately. He picked three five-wicket hauls and a four-wicket haul in the six matches ahead of the final. He also recorded India’s best-ever bowling figures in ODIs – 7/57 vs New Zealand in the semi-final in Mumbai. The pace bowler bowled first change all throughout and made inroads, ending with the highest tally of 24 wickets and becoming the first Indian to cross the 50-wicket mark in Cup history. However, once he was entrusted with the new ball in the final, he failed. 

Jasprit Bumrah’s success with new ball:

Pace bowler Jasprit Bumrah, who had just returned from injury, provided the early pressure with the new ball along with Mohammed Siraj. Even though Siraj wasn’t consistent in every game, Bumrah remained impeccable throughout and troubled the batsmen. He also picked wickets, ending with 20 scalps to be the fourth highest wicket-taker in the tournament. In the league phase, he conceded runs at just 3.7 an over which was extremely good as per the standards of modern one-day cricket. However, he lost control with the new ball in both the semi-final and the final. The fact that India batsmen had scored 397 allowed his early failure to not impact the semis result but defending a low total in the final, a poor start had an impact. 

Other notable performers:

Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja picked 16 wickets in 11 matches to be among the top 10 wicket-takers. Left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav took 15 in 11 matches while pace bowler Mohammed Siraj took 14 in 11 games. They, however, failed in the final. While Kohli (767 runs) and Rohit (597 runs) were the top two run-getters in the tournament, Shreyas Iyer (530 runs) and KL Rahul (452 runs) ended at the seventh and eighth positions in the list. The duo faltered in the final. Iyer made just four and Rahul took 107 balls to make 66.

Missing the Final Ingredient

India’s performance in ICC tournaments over the last 10 years

2014 T20 World Cup: Lost the final to Sri Lanka by six wickets

2015 Cricket World Cup: Lost the semi-final to Australia by 95 runs

2016 T20 World Cup: Lost the semi-final to West Indies by seven wickets

2017 Champions Trophy: Lost the final to Pakistan by 180 runs

2019 World Cup: Lost the semi-final to New Zealand by 18 runs

2021 World Test Championship: Lost the final to New Zealand by eight wickets

2021 T20 World Cup: Failed to go beyond the league stage

2022 T20 World Cup: Lost the semi-final to England by 10 wickets

2023 World Test Championship: Lost the final to Australia by 209 runs

2023 Cricket World Cup: Lost the final to Australia by six wickets