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Indian cricket: the ultimate winner

Amrit Mathur

So sad India suffered the dreaded slip between the World Cup and the lip, going down to a team they’d defeat most days. India was the team to beat and their march seduced everyone into thinking this World Cup was theirs to win. So, why did the boys travel to Heathrow instead of Lord’s?

There are as many theories as runs made by Rohit Sharma in the tournament. But here are some likely ones. According to Virat Kohli: “45 minutes of poor cricket… Some ordinary shot selection… NZ were brave.”

According to experts: “India’s batting middle is also its end. MSD at No 7 too low in the order. Dhoni made life difficult for Jadeja and behaved like a car going uphill with handbrakes on.”

India’s absence at Lord’s on July 14 spoils the party because they were supposed to win and a script was developed to suit this narrative.

The ICC, for good reason, thought India deserved priority because its sponsors were from India and Indian fans filled stadiums, even though prices were marked up for India games.

While Sri Lanka complained of the treatment they received (poor team bus, hotel rooms, net bowlers, practice pitches) India were treated the way Wimbledon treats Federer—with respect bordering on deference.

India lost to New Zealand but the World Cup provides enough evidence to confirm Indian cricket is a winner. All along, India’s economic muscle was recognised and envied; now merit is seen in India’s cricketing structure.

The IPL is largely responsible for this changed perception; there is widespread agreement that IPL improved fitness, fielding and running between the wickets. Most important, it created a breed of aware and ambitious cricketers who will not take a backward step.

Kevin Pietersen was always IPL-friendly but others in England now hope the “Hundred”, starting next July, will be a similar catalyst for their cricket. England, however, are not alone in wanting to copy the Indian cricket model.

Ian Bishop wants the West Indies to learn from India and appoint legends to mentor, coach youngsters. Just as Dravid shaped talent and created India’s bench strength.

After a disappointing World Cup, the Sri Lanka captain identified areas of concern for their cricket and put his finger on the dysfunctional structure. He spoke admiringly about India’s elaborate domestic cricket system (starting with under-16, going up to Ranji) and said this was responsible for raising standards.

Neighbours Pakistan are also considering adopting the Indian model. Pushed by PM Imran Khan to revamp their domestic cricket, they are about to embrace a format where first-class cricket is played by states and regions instead of departments or corporates.

It’s not without reason that the cricket world has suddenly woken up to India. To a large extent, team India deserves credit for this perception makeover. The World Cup eluded them but Virat’s team is seen to be playing compelling, competitive and quality cricket.

Unlike days past, this group is keen to win, is fitter than those preceding them and fields so much better.

Opponents respect this change and even fear this team for its intent and intensity.

The Virat-driven assertive and aggressive team culture finds many supporters, from Viv Richards to Ian Chappell but Waqar Younis provides the best perspective on Virat. He calls Virat a role model who inspires and motivates, and shows the way to others. Indian cricket has changed because of him.

It helps that Virat is an outstanding representative of Indian cricket, someone intelligent and on the ball. He plays hard but also carries himself with immense poise. It also helps that Virat is a top batsman, successful across formats, is all powerful and is in a position to push his reform agenda through.

(HT Media)

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