If South Africa’s rise to the top of the Test table can be attributed as much to their own improvement as to Australia’s fall from grace, India’s steady rise as a feared and respected one-day team has everything to do with the results they have achieved in the last eighteen months.
While Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been the engine that powered this growth, the maturing of the whole unit as a group has had a big role to play.
Each individual now knows his role in the team and is rewarded for playing his part, not merely for the runs he scores or wickets he takes.
While there are no lengthy team meetings and strategy sessions analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition — the computer most used is the one between Dhoni’s ears — there’s a strong knowledge of what needs to be done to secure a win in any given game.
Sports psychologists call this situational awareness, and it is this heightened ability to assess what needs to be done and then implementing plans that separates the consistent teams from the rest.
India have won the last five bilateral ODI series they have played, but multi-team tournaments with varied opponents to best, have proved a tougher formula to crack.
Barring their maiden triangular series triumph in Australia last year, India failed to pick up silverware in other multi-team tournaments.
“In a bilateral series, as the series proceeds, you get to know more things about a particular player or how he is performing at that time. Subconsciously you plan for his strengths and weaknesses,” explained Dhoni.
“In a three-team competition, specially one like this where you play each team just once, you have to be fully prepared right from the word go.
“You don’t get time to adjust. Batsmen and bowlers have become smarter. You can come up with a plan for a player but on the day he may change the way he plays and still succeed. Countering that is really tough. If Plan A is not working you have to be ready with Plan B.”
In the lead-up to the Champions Trophy, a tournament that will challenge India in just this way, Dhoni’s plans will be put to the test.
While he has proven time and again that he has it in him to rise to challenges he is faced with, the sternest examination of how he carries himself — and the team with him — might just be around the corner.