Reports have been swirling around that Vinod Rai, head of the Committee of Administrators, will ask for explanations from head coach Ravi Shastri and captain Virat Kohli, about India’s debacle in the World Cup semi-final against New Zealand.
With only a fuzzy newswire report to go by, one is not sure exactly what this means. It is highly unusual for the administration to go public with such demand — if indeed Rai has been quoted correctly — and make it seem like an inquisition, rather than an analysis of how and why the team fared as it did.
A study of performances — individual and collective — and how a tour pans out is part of the protocol in Indian cricket.
From the time I can remember, captains and managers/coaches have had to submit their confidential report to the administration on this, and unless this has changed in recent time, this should be with the BCCI/COA soon.
Disappointment at the semi-final result is palpable and understandable. India were hot favourites going into the game, and the adverse result has left everybody in shock. Not just Indian fans, but from across the cricket world — including sundry experts, were left shaking their heads in disbelief.
Yet, this result was not as disastrous as, say, the one in the 2007 World Cup, when India were ousted in the first phase itself. Reaching the semi-final by topping the league table, India had performed superbly this time, only to be upstaged by a no-frills, resolute New Zealand side that hardly boasted stars.
A review of India’s campaign, with particular emphasis on the semi-final, however, is obviously warranted and should be asked for.
The review must also include assessment of players, their suitability for this format — in terms of talent, temperament and age — going ahead. But this should not be tainted with a hue of recrimination.
That would be an exercise in scapegoating, pick out a few ‘villains’ for immediate action, but hardly offer solutions for the future.
In a play-off, the team that plays better on the day will win. This is an infallible truism of the game. There is no cushion for a comeback, as in a league phase.
In my opinion, in a low scoring, keenly fought contest, the strong Indian team was found wanting as underdogs New Zealand produced moments of magic that won them the match. To give a frame of reference, just as India had done in the 1983 final against mighty West Indies through Balwinder Sandhu’s ‘banana’ inswinger that bowled Gordon Greenidge and Kapil Dev’s brilliant catch to dismiss Viv Richards.
Jimmy Neesham’s spectacular catch at gully to dismiss Karthik, Martin Guptill’s rocket-like throw to run out Dhoni with only one stump to hit, and the opening spell of high quality swing and seam bowling by Matt Henry and Trent Boult which ripped out the top order highlight how well the Kiwis responded to acute pressure with brilliance in this semi-final.
This, however, does not preclude questions from the team management on decisions taken before and during the match.
The playing XI chosen and the batting order — particularly experienced M.S. Dhoni being held back till no.7 — though not bereft of cricket logic, were debatable nonetheless, particularly in the context of how the game panned out.
Yet, while reams of newsprint and hours and hours of prime time have been spent on discussing how the middle order couldn’t come to the team’s rescue, in my opinion, it was the failure of the top three — Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and K.L. Rahul — that spelt doom for India.
Between them — these three —who had scored heavily and freely in the preceding matches — were dismissed for a collective three runs! Though the target was modest, on a tricky pitch and against an excellent attack for the conditions backed by brilliant fielding, this put too much onus on the batsmen that followed.
Right through the World Cup, teams that lost wickets early, inevitably suffered. This is something that the Indian team should have been prepared for better, and indeed had the opportunity to do so when the semi-final spilled over into the second day, allowing time for introspection and revising strategy.
The World Cup campaign will be particularly galling for Kohli. Not because he failed to score a century (he was in excellent touch otherwise), but because for the third time in as many semis, his contribution was negligible. And his team, that looked the best till then, was shunted out.
That will hurt for a long time....