Bend around the circle by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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1 July 2013

The euphoria, after winning the world cup settled all too quickly in a state of drubbings and close calls, home and abroad, lending credence to the oft levelled allegation about the Indian Team that it is all flash and not whole lot of shine. The success at the world’s biggest stage has gone to their heads, rued and rubbed fans and critics, as the failures that followed right after did not befit the title of world champions. They were white washes, around and across and the small or so consolation victories that came in between did nothing to right the records or raise the morale. Like the lightning that always shares space with thunders, bitter defeats always bring with them that inseparable component of team sport – infighting. Statements were flying all around, strategies in team meetings getting leaked to the press, seniors in the team miffed at being sidelined and ignored, and in some cases, getting unceremoniously dropped. This was the lead up to the mini world cup where only the top teams competed for a coveted title that was reported to be making a last appearance. The side were still world champions, but started off the campaign as rank outsiders, with pundits and punters giving them slim to none chances of making to the next level after the group stages. And then something happened and the pixie dust got sprinkled on the team as whatever they touched turned into pure gold. They routed their oppositions, dropping their guard not once during the entire tournament. And when they finally revalidated their claims of being titular heads, the pronouncements were unanimous - the team deserved to raise the cup and make a toast, despite its history, and despite all the bad blood. For the few weeks of the tournament the team functioned as a well oiled unit and the result wasn’t only richly rewarding, it was truly deserving. The year was 1985.

It is eerie how echo of the past rung so loud and clear down to the backdrop, dynamics and finally the execution. Like before, the team was composed of not so super stars, save for a one here and there, but of grunt hogs and war horses, who didn’t mind spilling sweat and blood, just for a little extra. Like before, the bowling which appears to be the weakest link, and dominated by not so dominant and penetrating outfit, suited up to the task and kept it simple – not too much experimentation, not too many variations, put the ball in the right areas and step back to allow the opposition implode. The fact that Jadeja topped the list of bowlers was indicative enough of the strategy or even the lack of it. Like before, it was the openers who provided a rock solid start up on which the team built its fortunes. T(h)rusting Rohit Sharma to see of the new ball was a master stroke by the team’s think tank. For one who is prodigiously licentious for shunning responsibility throughout much of his career, handing him the reins of his club team during IPL seems to have done a world of good in terms of approaching the game with a new found respect and the steady shoulders and a cool head played perfect foil to the moustache-twirling swashbuckling style of his opening partner. As before, fielding was the biggest revelation. For a team that was known to hide its slow legs on boundary ropes, it was heartening to see faster and stronger limbs prowling the perimeter and attacking the ball like predators pouncing on their prey. If matches were broken up by key swing moments, the fielding unit (which is probably the first time this phrase is used in the Indian context) was right there grabbing opportunities and effecting changes, instead of merely reacting and responding to the unfolding proceedings. Like in 1985, this was the only time the team saw itself through the other end without ever dropping a match including the practice bouts. If everything during the two week tournament could be isolated for a moment, ignoring the inconsistent form, the drubbings abroad, and the congenital reluctance and resistance towards pace and bounce, this Indian team showed the extent of its excellence in every possible discipline.

Despite the dream run, can one go for as to call this team as a face of future in limited overs? The jury is still out of the question and if the team were to repeat its heroics Down Under in 2015, it has to develop not just an obsessive habit of winning, but also do so with a kind of ruthlessness and nonchalance exuded by West Indies of the ‘80s and the Australians of the ‘90s and the noughts. This attitude is guaranteed to instill a sense of insecurity in the opposition, where no score is safe from being chased down and no total is too low to be defended, because this is exactly what the Indians have done on both sides of the spectrum in those two weeks. Regale, you must, after the hard fought victories, but relax you must not, for, as Frost cautions ‘....miles to go before you sleep.’

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