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Friday, Nov 15, 2019

Dust settles on ICC World Cup, time ripe for course correction in Indian cricket

The team travels to West Indies - 3 T20Is, 3 ODIs are scheduled to be played and this is India’s chance to be fearless. Give the young players the chance to ‘express’ themselves, step back and see them handle whatever international cricket throws at them.

cricket Updated: Jul 18, 2019 14:33 IST
Manish K Pathak
Manish K Pathak
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
File photo of Virat Kohli and Eoin Morgan
File photo of Virat Kohli and Eoin Morgan(BCCI Photo)
         

Eoin Morgan trudged off the field, head clasped in his hands, cutting a lonely figure, the bright lights at the Adelaide Oval glaring down, but for Morgan it was all bleak, it was dark. England cricket had had many heartbreaks, but limping out of the World Cup in the league stage was the nadir. Now, Morgan likes to lie, he is also a good bluffer, these make him astute, rather phlegmatic, but when he confronted the press, he was stoic, accurate, and hurt. ‘We have been playing catchup cricket, stuck in the past’, he said and walked away - not away from the challenges, but away from the style, from the England style of being correct, according to the textbook, for the purists.

Morgan, an Irish born scrapper, leading an England side without any silverware in 50-over cricket had a vision. He did not care about the book, he never really cared about aesthetics and for a man who left his own country of birth to forge a career, for a man who had become used to disdain and suspicion, Morgan knew that amid all the quietness and shock, heads will roll.

ALSO READ: Virat Kohli will have ‘absolutely no say’ in new India head coach selection - Reports

Heads did roll, the old textbook was thrown to a corner, and in Andrew Strauss, he found an accomplice. ‘Play with freedom and identify players’ - the leader wanted his side to play a brand of cricket which brings back the masses, not by shouting from rooftops, but by walking out to own the place and not leaving until the opposition does not even look at you.

“The IPL was a chance to get away from everything and reassess where I was at and how things would go,” said Morgan to ESPNCricinfo. “And then Straussy rang me and told me that I would still be captain.”

So, what would change? It needs to be mentioned here, that England were the number one team back in 2012 too, when Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott formed the top order. Conserve the wickets, build, brick by brick and then break loose at the end. This approach had given them success, and they kept at it - well, the world looked at them with furrowed eyebrows and sprinted ahead. It all came together in 2015, and things came to a nought. Absolute zilch!

ALSO READ: World Cup 2019: MS Dhoni - Not quite the superannuated man

Morgan was appointed captain months before the 2015 World Cup, he does concede that the players tried to break free and play more positively, but then went back to the safety of their bunker when put under pressure. For a person, who refuses to be satisfied with theories and bland answers, Morgan was never going to blink and nod. He sat together with Strauss, chalked out a plan, and decided to jolt the system.

Before the finale at Lord’s, there was a picture which did the rounds - Morgan embracing Brendon McCullum. Both players have developed a very sound relationship by sharing dressing rooms at Kolkata Knight Riders, at Middlesex etc. And in so many ways, Morgan’s new side embodied McCullum’s sexy side when they first met after the disastrous 2015 World Cup. In Brendon, New Zealand had a leader who attacked - he jumped out of the track against the white new ball, even if it was the first one, had 3 slips and a gully even in the 15th over as he kept pressing for wickets and chased the ball in the outfield as if it were the only source of income. There was so much happening around that side - they were beaten in the finals of 2015 by a superior Australia side, yet McCullum’s side’s march never skipped a beat.

This new England took the field, the crowd was waiting, as Jason Roy, a mercurial county batsman took guard. He flew off the mark and returned to the pavilion immediately. The England of old would have pulled the plug and gone back to the bunker - not Morgan’s England. The batsmen kept marching out, kept attacking, without a care in the world, with a smile, with a wink, with the pure joy of enjoying the game. What was happening? It was a breeze, England screamed past 400 and nothing ever remained the same.

ALSO READ: Kohli-Rohit rift talks ‘absolute nonsense’, senior players ‘miffed’ with whole episode - Report

Yes, ICC’s super over rules could have been re-drafted, yes, New Zealand were heartbroken, yes and yes, to every other caveat. But the fact remains, that England came into the World Cup as favourites, as the number 1 side and they won the trophy. It was not out of place, it was certainly not a fluke - but 5 years of planning all coming together.

So, why are we on about this England’s revival? Hasn’t Morgan and the English media spoken enough about it? Well, we are talking about this, because in eerily similar ways, the Indian team, led by the aggressive Virat Kohli and coached by the positive Ravi Shastri is stuck in a rut.

For the masses, the image of an outstretched MS Dhoni failing to make his ground by an inch will remain. For the masses, the image of a helpless Rohit Sharma hiding and then revealing his face will remain. For the masses, the heartbreak will remain and yet, Indian cricket needs to pause, scrape away the rubble, look at the system in place, and make decisions.

Unlike England, the rut is not as deep, yet, like England, the rut is similar. A template stuck in the previous decade, a template which has given them more rewards than failures, a template which unravels when put under the pump.

ALSO READ: India vs West Indies, India squad for WI tour: Kohli, Dhoni unlikely for limited overs; Agarwal, Pandey, Iyer in reckoning

Unlike England, the next pitstop is not four years later, but like England, the process needs to be kick started. 2020 and the T20 World Cup will be here, the moment will look away and look back again and this is India’s chance. For a society, which walks on stipulated paths, for a society which sticks to the rules and for a society which thrives on being politically correct, Indian cricket has to act like a daisy amid the rubbles. Questions need to be asked, and answers need to be sought.

Why don’t we start from right at the top?

Shikhar Dhawan was consistent for Delhi Capitals in the IPL, yet he did not rattle along. Virat Kohli was all too consumed for Royal Challengers Bangalore’s failures to even take his own batting seriously. And then there is the middle order muddle, where even a helplessly out of touch MS Dhoni is not the biggest problem.

England backed Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and gave them the freedom the fail, to stand up, belt the bowlers again, fail again, and then stand up again. They are now World Champions. How many of India’s middle-order ‘solutions’ were allowed to fail? How many times were they given the freedom to ‘express themselves’ and not worry about their own batting positions? Barring the top 3, not a lot. Hence, when the team is overly reliant on the top 3 and crumble when they fail should not be a surprise.

Is it a time to sit down and debate the inclusion of MS Dhoni or his role, or is it the time to find players catered to specific roles and back them to perform, fail, perform, fail and be world champions.

For there is Shubman Gill, there is Mayank Agarwal, there is Shreyas Iyer, there is Anmolpreet Singh, there is Sanju Samson, there is Prithvi Shaw. This could be viewed as the cream of India’s young domestic talent. Prolific numbers, not an entirely scrambled mind and plenty of panache.

ALSO READ: Sachin Tendulkar names two standout performers from Team India in World Cup 2019

After loitering in the middle order, Rohit Sharma was asked by MS Dhoni to open the innings. He became a white ball beast, an absolute marauding machine at the top of the order, winning games for the side. Shubman Gill was just there in Kolkata Knight Riders’ lineup because he had promise. He was bumped up to open the batting and 50s flowed. So, now, there is Rohit, there is Shubman, imagine them walking out together to face the new ball up front. And before we sit up, this is about the T20 format and perhaps creating a succession plan when the next 50-overs World Cup comes around.

Virat Kohli is insanely fit, we still see him at number 3, in T20s, in ODIs, so he should control proceedings from the place he prefers to get the job done. What follows his brilliance needs to be spoken about.

There is Shreyas Iyer, who wants to play for the side and learn from Rohit and Kohli. Iyer, who averages 42 in 6 matches at a strike rate of 97, keeps captaining India ‘A’, keeps churning out the runs for all the sides he plays for. He does not believe in seeing off the shine and giving the bowlers the due and all the ‘rules’ and shenanigans. So, he walks out at four. We are not even speaking about Mayank Agarwal, for he is an opener, and okay, fine, if Shubman is still too raw, throw in Mayank and ask him to flay attacks and wink at failures and come back to flay them attacks all over again. He has the numbers, the pedigree, the game. He needs backing.

So, when he go down to number 5, there is the maverick in Rishabh Pant, who gets juices flowing, tongues wagging, and bowlers thinking. He needs to work on his temperament, yes, but it all comes when you are secure about your own position. Fine, he too can throw his wicket away, so there is Sanju Samson. He delights with his cover drives and languid pick-ups over mid-wicket, so between the two, and among the two, take a pick - depending on the format. Do not show them book, ask them to write their own. For the world has flown past, and people rather prefer watching a brief synopsis masquerading as adaptations, rather than sitting down and reading books.

Hardik marches in at 6, we believe. He is blossoming into a fine all-rounder, so do not give him a script to workaround - instead, give him few pages for a brief look and allow him to decipher it in his own way.

As we said, this is the cream of India’s domestic talent, and as we said, this is what is needed. As we walk around the streets of New Delhi these days, rains have arrived. The lashing drops have created potholes, bumps, other impediments. So, what are the options - either plaster them and see them get eroded with the next shower, or get down and create a new road from scratch.

We go back to Eoin Morgan - he had a vision and he did not budge away from it. Heck, the bloke was even called out for not humming England’s national anthem and yet, his static face did not flinch. It was perhaps, he was more worried about the deep-rooted problem in England’s limited-overs structure and the Irishman built things from scratch.

India’s problems, unlike England, are not that deep-rooted. Kohli sings the national anthem with puffed chests and blaring voices, primarily because he believes in the system. This system handed India the number 1 tag in ODIs, but this system has also failed them in crunch moments. It needs to be spoken about and it needs to be sorted.

The team travels to West Indies - 3 T20Is, 3 ODIs are scheduled to be played and this is India’s chance to be fearless. Give the young players the chance to ‘express’ themselves, step back and see them handle whatever international cricket throws at them. All the aforementioned options are in West Indies as we speak, and they are lighting up the stage with unbridled freedom.

Kohli applauded England and their cricket after they clinched glory, he now needs to imbibe their process, for the talent India has on offer is immense. Coaches might come, they might fade away, players come, become idols, fade away. Legacy remains, this England side will always be known as Morgan’s side, his stoic face will always be stamped across the side. Indian cricket has a chance of course correction and it can start from Australia 2020 and in 2023, the world comes back home and with a new nucleus and new brand of cricket, the trophy might not slip away from the fingers by ‘margins’.

Virat Kohli believes in margins, these are the few margins he needs to correct. Can the Manchester of 2019 for India act as the Adelaide of 2015 did for England?

When the selectors sit down to pick a side for West Indies, there is a chance to kick start a process, a process which has a long window. They might not stay forever, but for MSK Prasad-led committee, this is a chance to start a cycle.

When England were bouncing around with the trophy, when songs were sung, when tears rolled out and when the cup came home, the players, the captain and everyone spoke about Andrew Strauss - the bloke who started the cycle but was now at home after the unfortunate demise of his wife. Legacy stays, even if the person moves away. It is this legacy that Kohli and MSK Prasad have to start, and as they say, the time is now!