Courage. A very simple word, but with a deeper meaning when it comes to finals. And perhaps something that India has lacked when it comes to the big stage in the last few years. When it comes to Australia, courage is what sets them apart in a big final. Harjas Singh, out of form for the entire tournament, grabbed his opportunity in the final. Courage, as we said. India, on the other hand, were limp. An early collapse and another loss, which is now becoming routine.
If it was Travis Head and Steve Smith at The Oval in the WTC final in June 2023, and Head again in Ahmedabad in November in the World Cup final, it was Harjas last night. It is about embracing the big stage. Soaking in the pressure and not being intimidated. Easier said than done, but then, that’s what a final is all about. Adarsh Singh had the opportunity. He was the lone batter who was set. And yet a 47 off 77 balls did not do justice. Rather, it put the pressure on the other batters and allowed Australia to take control.
Two examples will help prove this point. At 113-3, Australia were struggling to score fast. The run rate was hovering around 4.3 and India seemed to be gaining control. That was when Raj Limbani mis-fielded at third man to concede a boundary. He actually dived over the ball and let it go for four. Such things happen in sport, but the Indian body language was the issue. They looked scared and from there on, allowed far too many easy singles. It was as if they were only keen on protecting the boundaries.
Australia were allowed to consolidate and Harjas to get set. Instead of putting pressure on him and trying to get him out, India were happy to restrict the runs in the second half of the innings. The mindset was defensive and lacked courage. And that’s been the story in most finals. To not play R Ashwin at The Oval was yet another example of that lack of courage. Seeing the first-day weather, the team management went with a medium pacer and left out the team’s best spinner. Needless to say, it came back to hurt India.
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Courage doesn’t necessarily mean bravado. Rather, it is closer to being bold and pragmatic. Take Neeraj Chopra on the Olympic stage. Neeraj was aware that the first couple of throws would define him in Tokyo. He did not bother holding back. He started with 87.02m and followed it up with 87.58m to win the gold. When you are pitted against the best in a big final, you need to seize your moment. Win it mentally and not just with skill. The fact that you have made the final is evidence of talent.
Without ability, there is no final. So, to say that India were lacking in a technical sense isn’t correct – the 10 straight wins for the senior team and an unbeaten run for the U-19 side are proof of that. Rather, it is all in the mind. Deep down, there is a sort of anxiety that India don’t win finals. And that leads to the players trying that extra bit harder, which isn’t needed. We try extra hard only when we lack conviction, when we aren’t confident of following the usual process.
We think that decisive one percent will only come with the extra effort. But the truth is it has come all tournament, including the big semi-final, by just doing the things that we normally do. By following the process, and not doing anything extra. You don’t need to be different in a final. This is the acknowledgment we lack. We try to be different just because it is a big final. We start with Mohammed Shami instead of Mohammed Siraj, despite having gone with Siraj all tournament. We are over-cautious in the first ten overs of a 250-run chase like we were on Sunday night.
While these defeats hurt, the truth is we need to stay patient and follow the process. That we make the final each time is enough to show we have the teams to deliver. Now it is about staying true on the big stage and not doing anything different just for the sake of it. Control the mind, and don’t allow it to race away. Easier said than done, but then, that’s what big teams and big players do in a major final. India too will get there. And soon. Or so we all hope.
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