What Indian Cricket Can Learn From Its Last Global Success

The Champions Trophy triumph nearly a decade ago, with a new-look team that had few stars, offers a blueprint that India need to try and emulate in a World Cup year.

Unless you’re an adult, the chances are that you won’t even remember the last time India won a global trophy – the ICC Champions Trophy back in the summer of 2013. Since then, India have frequently barnstormed their way through the group stages of tournaments, only to fall short in the knockout matches that matter.

Flawless in the league phase at the 2015 World Cup in Australia, and table toppers in the round-robin format used in 2019, India went out at the semifinal stage on both occasions. With the next World Cup less than a year away, what is it, if anything, that India can learn from their last white-ball triumph?

With the passage of time, it’s easy to forget that the 2013 Champions Trophy marked the start of a new era. A whole host of legends had departed the stage, and only MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina remained from the XI that had won the 2011 World Cup final.

Compared to its predecessors, it was a side noticeably lacking in stardust. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan were a relatively unproven combination at the top of the order, while Kohli himself was in the early stages of his journey to legendary status as an ODI batter. Raina, while a very fine player, never quite became the player we thought he would be when plucked out of obscurity at the age of 18.

The pace trio of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav had nothing like the experience or nous of Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, while R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, the spin twins, had the big task of replacing Harbhajan Singh. Most importantly, India had no Yuvraj Singh, whose all-round heroics had been central to that epic 2011 triumph.

You could argue that Dhoni was a legend, especially after having already won the T20 World Cup and the 50-overs version as captain. But by 2013, the days when he changed games while batting in the top four were long gone. He was still an effective finisher, but more an inspirational captain and guide than a frontline batter.

Except for the nail-biting, rain-affected final at Edgbaston, India won their other four games in the tournament with a measure of comfort. The openers were ruthlessly effective, and the bowlers took 45 wickets across the five games. Apart from South Africa in the opening game, no other batting unit even managed to put a crease on Dhoni’s brow.

Why then have India lacked that clinical edge since? Without dismissing on-field and tactical reasons, it hasn’t helped that personality cults have taken root, just as deeply as back in the days when Sachin Tendulkar was “God”, Sourav Ganguly was “The Prince” and Rahul Dravid “The Wall”. Individual achievements can be browsed at length in record books, but in a team sport, they seldom guarantee trophies.

When the narrative, especially in the mainstream media, revolves around individuals, it’s easy to lose sight of collective goals. Selectors too are human, and influenced by the noise around them. When selections become about which players have been picked or dropped, rather than a coherent philosophy, then it’s that much harder to win big games.

Just look at the English side that recently won the World T20 in Australia. Even a year earlier, Phil Salt, Harry Brook, Liam Livingstone and Sam Curran weren’t regular picks, while Alex Hales had been out in the cold for half a decade after his role in the Bristol nightclub fracas (2017). Ben Stokes hadn’t played the format for a year and a half. But England assessed the conditions, choose the personnel for the style of cricket they wanted to play, and came up trumps.

They did so with a new white-ball coach, Matthew Mott of Australia. Realising that Test cricket and T20 are almost two entirely different sports has been at the heart of much of England’s recent success. Skills learned and applied in one format can be transferred to another, but the mindset and personnel are often entirely different. Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad continue to break records in Test cricket, but neither has played a white-ball game for England since February 2016.

India’s dated approach to batting is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to success. There will be rare days in white-ball cricket when caution and consolidation prevail, when building an innings in tricky conditions becomes the need of the hour. As a rule though, on increasingly placid pitches, it’s the teams that blaze away from ball one that prevail. In the T20 format in particular, a 40-ball 50 is usually nothing to be celebrated. The chances are that it will cost you the game. A 15-ball 30 has far greater value.

India has long been obsessed with individual milestones. But in T20s, they have no meaning if the strike-rate lags behind. The current T20 selection is a step in the right direction, as India seek to identify at least three or four frontline batters who can rattle along at a strike-rate of 150 or higher. In the recent past, only Suryakumar Yadav has come into the side and been able to deliver that on a consistent basis.

On the bowling front, the focus needs to shift to pace and wrist spin. Containment can win the odd game, but as India showed at the Champions Trophy in 2013, there’s simply no substitute to bowling a side out. Australia’s T20 win in 2021 owed much to the pace bowling of Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc, and the leg-spin of Adam Zampa. A year later, England won with weighty contributions from the pace duo of Sam Curran and Mark Wood, and the miserly leg-spin of Adil Rashid.

If Yuzvendra Chahal and Axar Patel are unable to either take wickets or tie the batters down, then it’s time to look beyond them to the likes of Ravi Bishnoi, who has done little wrong in his ten appearances so far. Similarly, the shock value offered by the pace of Umran Malik and Shivam Mavi must be persisted with, without running them into the ground.

Most importantly though, Indian cricket needs to stop the obsession with individuals. Rohit and Kohli may still have big parts to play in the upcoming World Cup, but the narrative cannot be about them. Indian cricket needs to look to the future, while learning from its own past. In that regard, the 2013 Champions Trophy offers some valuable lessons.

Broadcasters and advertisers need to build up individuals and put faces on billboards, especially in a climate where India games are no longer guaranteed to sell out. But if the selectors and the media make the same mistake, then this near-decade-long cycle of failure will only continue.

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