Kohli aside, India look undercooked for the T20 World Cup

Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli (Photo: Debasis Sen)

Sport is all about handling pressure. Soak in it, and deliver. Absorb it and make it work to your advantage. Royal Challengers Bengaluru (RCB) did exactly that in the last six games as they believed in the fairy tale. By not giving up and taking it step by step, they have now opened things up for themselves and their fans, and are on the cusp of history. Their women did it a month and a half back. Now, if the men’s team can follow suit, it will be a season like no other. 

But the RCB story isn’t the subject of this piece. RCB were able to make it because Chennai Super Kings (CSK) failed to cross the line. Lucknow Super Giants (LSG), who were in pole position at one point, frittered it away and Delhi Capitals too lost out on an opportunity. And except for Virat Kohli, who has been stellar, almost of all of RCB’s performers against CSK were international stars. The India internationals, sadly, weren’t up to the mark. And that’s what makes me worry for India at the T20 World Cup and beyond. 

There is a reason why Australia win the big tournaments and India don’t. And these crunch games offer evidence as to why. Against RCB, Ruturaj Gaekwad was out first ball in the run chase. Much was expected of him as skipper and leader. On a wicket that offered turn, Ravindra Jadeja conceded over 40 runs. Shivam Dube missed out on a golden opportunity to be a hero, and in hindsight, should have sacrificed his wicket for the well-set Rachin Ravindra. Shardul Thakur, also an India international, kept bowling full tosses at the death which were dispatched to all corners of the stadium. Now, clearly these players are better than what we saw at the Chinnaswamy. For RCB as well, Mohammed Siraj wasn’t at his best and even dropped a sitter. 

A look at the performers, and the contrast becomes clearer. Faf du Plessis, Cameron Green and Glenn Maxwell all starred for RCB when it mattered the most. I am not including uncapped Indians like Yash Dayal, for they aren’t the yardstick here. For CSK, the stars were Ravindra and Maheesh Theekshana, with a handy contribution from MS Dhoni. Jadeja did bat well, but wasn’t able to take his team over the line. In sport, it is winner takes all. Now, if we look beyond this game and look at other teams, LSG needed KL Rahul to stand up against Delhi. A win there, and they would have been in the play-offs. Rahul failed, and the franchise lost out. 

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Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli (PC: X)

Is it fair to say then that Indian stars, barring a few like Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah, have not been able to stand up to pressure, and how big a problem is that going Into the World Cup? Hardik Pandya, for example, wasn’t up to the mark and it could well be ascribed to the pressures of captaincy. Sanju Samson, who was looking superb as leader till the middle of the competition, lost a few matches on the trot towards the business end, and that could cost his team dear. 

It is this ability to perform under pressure the separates Australia and the rest. While we carry the weight of the world, the Australians, as Justin Langer said, “love to thrive under pressure and enjoy every bit of it.” The Aussie dressing room, according to him, is more like a nightclub, with each enjoying the assigned role. 

No one can say that India weren’t a good team in the 2023 World Cup. They beat every team along the way, and yet faltered when it mattered the most. The Australians, led by Travis Head, grabbed the opportunity and closed out the final with aplomb. For the Indians to win big ICC events, it is imperative that we deal with pressure better. For Gaikwad and others to push Kohli and Rohit Sharma at the top, they need to play in the big games and make a telling difference. For Dube to establish himself as a viable alternative to Pandya, he needs to step up in crunch matches.

To score 500 runs in the tournament isn’t enough. Under what circumstances the runs are scored, and in what context, is as important. And that’s where Kohli stands out. Even when his team was down and out, he kept pushing the bar. Dug deep and made a difference. And in the game against CSK, he did what was expected of him – gave a solid start and field brilliantly under pressure. There is no further evidence required as to why he is still India’s best bet in high-pressure scenarios like the World Cup. 

Based on the evidence of the IPL, I am seriously concerned about India’s chances at the T20 World Cup. Half the players aren’t in any sort of form, and the pressure of the big stage could yet again get to them. In fact, an Indian win would be a surprise and an upset of sorts, a prediction that I would really want to get wrong. But, from the IPL experience, it has to be said that Rohit’s team doesn’t inspire much confidence heading into the competition.

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