Does Virat Kohli think this team will help him win the World Cup in two years’ time?
The Champions Trophy was a great launching pad for India. They had played 13 ODIs in 2016 before diving head first into a packed domestic Test season. And then there was the IPL which left any time for the team to prepare for their title defence in England.
However, the players were confident. More importantly, Kohli was confident. The leader, the best batsman in the side and the nemesis of bowlers the world over, felt it was specific skills that would help India stand out in what he defined was a tough tournament because the top eight sides in world cricket got to play in it.
India’s campaign up until the final was clinical and the team followed a set formula. With the bat, they consolidated up top for the first 10 overs, accelerated in the middle and delivered the killer blow in the slog overs.
The bowling was equally efficient and the pacers stuck to what they did best over the last one year: dry up the runs up front and keep chipping away with wickets in the middle overs. And then it was over to Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah to stop the opposition from exploding at the end.
It was supposed to be a successful formula for success. Except in England, the formula failed twice in five matches and India had to concede the crown they won so heroically back in 2013.
It is all very well to say India did incredibly well to reach the final and Pakistan were the better team on the day. But with the World Cup two years away, it is also important to look at the cold, hard facts. The truth is India lost two out of five matches – on both occasions, the bowlers conceded well in excess of 300 and on one occasion, the batting caved in after the top three failed to fire.
The top three – Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli – had contributed for the bulk of the runs throughout the tournament. Their failure against Pakistan exposed the Indian middle-order to possibly the best pace attack in the world.
Yuvraj Singh played a gem of a knock against Pakistan at Edgbaston and MS Dhoni was sharp against Sri Lanka but the two legends are no where near the potent force they once were. The match was as good as out of India’s grasp but the two failed to even show the spark to play for pride. Kohli has been stubborn about his team selection in the limited-overs formats and has openly backed Yuvraj and Dhoni to be a part of the team.
But to what end? It is clear both men are past their prime. They were outstanding against England at home but the 2019 World Cup will be played in England in similar conditions to the Champions Trophy, where a good pace attack will never be out of the contest.
Away from home is where the trouble starts for Dhoni. He has played 25 matches outside the subcontinent since the beginning of 2015 and has returned only 460 runs from 16 innings at an average of 30.60.
Does Kohli reckon Dhoni, at 35, will improve on those numbers? Who will convince Kohli to look beyond MSD? Will it be coach? But Anil Kumble and Kohli do not see eye-to-eye.
Yuvraj, meanwhile, played outside the subcontinent for the first time in nearly four years. How do these numbers exude confidence? Will Kohli get over his Yuvraj obession?
Yes, Yuvraj is a giant in limited-overs cricket. He was the game turner in 2007 and the protagonist in 2011 and has since been a talisman for India at ICC events. But what happened in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017? How many performances stand out to justify his presence in the team? Why is it so difficult in India to look past the big cricketers and ask questions?
Why for instance, should the likes of Rishabh Pant, Sanju Samson, Shreyas Iyer continue to be ignored when they are bristling with energy at he prime of their youth? These are skilled cricketers and highly motivated. There are only two years left for the World Cup and these young men should probably be given some time out in the middle in so that the management understands where they fit in.
But who will convince Kohli to look ahead and plan for the future? It’s surprising a forward-thinking captain like him should succum to the charms of an era gone by. He has tasted staggering success at home but sterner tests lie ahead – foreign Test tours and then that World Cup. These events will determine Kohli’s legacy as captain and a player of repute. How will he traverse the tricky road ahead?