Updated: October 26, 2021 3:03:22 pm
The moment Virat Kohli announced that this would be his last assignment as his country’s T20 captain, the overarching narrative of India’s World Cup pieced itself together. A linear storyline of whether he would bow out on a blazing high, with an elusive ICC trophy in his honours list, or the one unscaled peak of his career would remain unscaled.
It’s harsh that his leadership mettle in white-ball cricket is weighed solely on the number of titles he has not won, or he has lost narrowly than on the identity he has forged for himself and the team.
Two semifinal appearances and two lost finals in as many ICC tournaments are not, by any stretch of the imagination, outright failures. Except in trophy-obsessed, world-domination-fixated India. The country is intolerant to failures (that of sportsmen) than ever before. Their dreams are bigger and ambitions broader than ever before. An away series win here, or reaching the last four there, would no longer sate the aspirational, ambitious (and at times greedy too) India.
Empowered, enlightened, moneyed, they want the country to dominate cricket like Australia for a chunk of this century or the West Indies in the last century.
At various points of Kohli’s reign, India indeed have dominated all formats of the game, but without a glittering piece of silverware as proof of their success.
A destiny-fulfilling opportunity awaits India over the next three weeks. In each of the last four ICC tournaments, from the Champions Trophy in 2017 to the World Test Champions, India had worn the favourites tag despite faults and flaws. Almost flawless.
In ODIs, they fretted over middle order, in Test, they fidgeted over their balance. But here, they have descended with the most flawless, or the least flawed, of their squads in an ICC event. This time, they are the more favourites than all other favourites.
It could not have been said about the team when the UAE journey of the IPL began. The form of Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan was a concern, but now that both revived their touch towards the backend of the tournament, India boast an explosive as well as versatile batting line-up. That four of the top five are cross-format regulars illustrate the multi-dimensionality of their batting. The fifth, Yadav, could join the group in a not-so-distant future too.
Destructive lower order
Hardik Pandya demonstrated that prolonged absence from regular international cricket has not diminished his prowess to kill games. He, though, will have to share some of his heavy artillery batting shifts with Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja, making India’s middle-lower order the most destructive in recent times. Should Pandya start bowling, as is expected in the latter stages, India would become even more a ferocious proposition.
The strongest suit is, undisputedly, their three-man Beatles at the top, the deadliest triumvirate in T20 cricket. Should they hit the straps, which is regular, a batting treat of the highest class awaits. Two most non-violent hitters in cricket, Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul, followed by arguably the finest batsman of his time, Kohli.
Sharma had a patchy IPL, Kohli was erratic, but it would be foolish to not wager on them piling runs. The magnitude of the tournament would just be the fuel that would power the Ferraris of modern cricket into race mode. If their batsmen are race-cars waiting to vroom, their fast bowlers are thoroughbreds keen to gallop.
Bumrah the spearhead
If the IPL is a precursor, Jasprit Bumrah’s verve should worry batsmen, even before they tune their eyes to his stilted, eight-step run-up. He can pull off at least half a dozen avatars—spearhead, calm-head, intimidator, enforcer, new-ball virtuoso, yorker-spitting machine. Under the giant shadow he casts, it’s convenient to forgo those in the shades. But Mohammed Shami, with his ability to straddle lengths and the mastery of short-balls, is a dangerously understated bowler in this format.
After years of struggling to crack the T20 code, he has strummed high-notes in the last three years. Combine them with one of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shardul Thakur—in most other teams both would be unquestioned starters—there is a dazzling blend of muscle and music, depth and deception.
Wealth of spin talent
Their depth is only paled by the riches in India’s spin department. That India could afford to overlook Yuzvendra Chahal and Axar Patel, leave alone the likes of Ravi Bishnoi, would be difficult for most teams to fathom. The cunning of Jadeja, the mystery of Varun Chakravarthy, the mastery of Ravi Ashwin and the devilry of Rahul Chahar could pose confusion for not only batsmen but also the team selectors. If the pitches tend to be low and lethargic as they had been in the IPL, Kohli could unleash all three. All four could harness even a smidgeon of assistance from the pitch, but what makes them even more dangerous is that all four take the pitch out of the equation too.
So multifaceted the squad is that it could blossom anywhere in the world. Besides skills, the team has other requisites to triumph too, like their unbreakable spirit and imperishable courage.
The only flip-side to this concoction of skills and spirit is that if they fall short of winning the World Cup, it would be counted as a bona fide failure. Or another blot in Kohli’s captaincy book. A peak that remains unscaled. The overarching narrative of Kohli’s last assignment as T20 captain.