Just 45 minutes of bad cricket. Virat Kohli’s assessment of India’s World Cup ouster had an underlying implication of misfortune too. The Indian skipper’s sentiment was justifiable, for India emerged the group toppers, bruised and bullied most of their adversaries, played an entertaining brand of cricket, wore an air of champions-apparent. Yet they surrendered to a side they’d beaten comprehensively in the format at their home at the stroke of this year. A side, finalists though they were in the last World Cup, never wagered to progress beyond the last four, and for whom even reaching the last four must be credited to the singular brilliance of their skipper Kane Williamson.
Kohli and millions of Team India supporters could wallow in the “everything that could have gone wrong went terribly wrong” narrative. But it should not deflect from the fact that India weren’t quite the complete side they were projected to be. They had a glaring flaw — their feeble middle order. It was masked by a bunch of terrific individuals. Before Shikhar Dhawan picked up an injury, they had arguably the most spectacular top three in the World Cup. Spearheaded by Jasprit Bumrah, the most complete pacer of this generation, they flaunted a deceptively versatile bowling attack. But at the most inopportune moment, the mask that covered the flaw was peeled off. Realistically, though, how much better could a middle order comprising Rishabh Pant, talented yet uncut, Dinesh Karthik, an eternal cameo man, Hardik Pandya, big-hitter but not game-definer, and MS Dhoni, a force on the wane, could muster?
It’s time to press the refresh button. Identifying and grooming batsmen and stitching up a solid middle order should be the selectors’ immediate concern. KL Rahul looked more compact at No 4 than as an opener; there’s the immensely talented Pant, and other youngsters such as Shubman Gill and Shreyas Iyer. A few of the tried and tested (and failed) names could be weeded out. India could embark on a new, hopefully brave era.