The world cup is around the corner and, in the next few weeks, a billion people in India will experience supreme excitement watching the World Cup to be held in England and Wales. Cricket is like a religion in India and even in other parts of South Asia, cricket has now reached every village and every street corner. Geoff Marsh, former Australian cricketer, who a decade ago visited the TERI cricket grounds (where several international matches have been played), was overwhelmed by the amount of cricket that is played in India, on the basis of which he predicted that India would certainly soon become the dominant force in this game. His prediction appears to have come true, given the serious competition among Indian cricketers now playing first class cricket and adapting to the variations of the game right from the five-day tests to the shortest T20 format.
Those who witnessed the third T20 game between India and New Zealand, must have been disappointed with the outcome, while India lost the game by four runs. But as a famous football coach in the US stated, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” On balance, India had a far better team in that game but it appears that the hunger to win was missing, which is the hallmark of teams excelling consistently. In some respects, much depends on the captain of the team and his ability to lift the players he commands to a level which takes them to the limits of their capabilities. India has had outstanding captains, not just in cricket but in other games as well. Who could have doubted the genius of Dhyan Chand in the heyday of India’s complete dominance of hockey, where as a captain, he led by example?
Our first win in the 1983 World Cup was crafted by none other than Kapil Dev, who as a captain, always led by example. As India’s best all-rounder, excelling in bowling, batting and fielding, Kapil Dev hardly ever had any fitness problem. This not only helped him perform beyond the call of duty but also set an example through his infectious enthusiasm.
Way back during India’s tour of Australia in 1947-48, Lala Amarnath was India’s captain, leading a severely depleted team in the wake of the Partition of India and other factors. Yet, in an unprecedented move, it was Lala Amarnath’s courageous approach to the game that allowed him declare in the third test, even though India was 103 runs behind after it rained overnight. Of course, Don Bradman was equal to the challenge, sending in his tail enders, but he must have been worried when SG Barnes, the fourth Australian wicket, fell at the score on 32. But then, the Australians recovered and beat India by an innings and 16 runs. The major discovery of the tour for India was Vinoo Mankad and Dattu Phadkar (who scored 51 in the second test, getting Bradman’s wicket in the third and then hitting a century in the fourth). It was this writer’s privilege to be coached by the great Dattu Phadkar after his retirement several decades ago.
In the past, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, or ‘Captain Cool’, has shown remarkable abilities not only to inspire and motivate his team but also to perform both as an outstanding wicket-keeper and consistently aggressive batsman. Even today, he is regarded as the best finisher of the game and his presence in the World Cup would be an inspiration to the entire Indian team with his insights, which he is never reluctant to share with his captain, the bowlers as well as the batsmen with whom he is in the middle.
Virat Kohli is another leader, who is likely to take the Indian team to greater heights, even though he may not as yet possess the confidence and ability to perform on the field when it matters the most. That is where Dhoni’s advice would be crucial in supplementing the skills of these two outstanding cricketers.
The third T20 in Hamilton at New Zealand came as a disappointment, because this match could have proved to be the climax after India’s progress during the ODIs and the second T20. Rohit Sharma is such a gifted player with a remarkable cricketing brain and as a captain gets the best out of his team. That day, unfortunately, he appeared to have been out of sorts. Perhaps, there was inadequate consultation between Rohit Sharma and the team management, because given the excellent batting conditions and short boundaries at Hamilton, India should justifiably have batted first.
It was entirely within their reach to set up a mammoth total against the black caps and set them a daunting target. What was even more disappointing was the slow rate at which Rohit Sharma played for the period that he was there, scoring barely 38 runs in 32 balls. If only he had scored another 10 runs in those 32 balls he faced,
victory would not have eluded India!
This was an aberration, given Rohit Sharna’s ability to send the ball sailing into the crowds with his sixers hit all over the park. His emphasis on taking singles and having Vijay Shankar and Rishabh Pant do all the slogging placed undue pressure on these talented but inexperienced batsmen.
The essence of the match in Hamilton lies in the positive frame of mind that the captain must carry constantly redefining strategy, a quality which Rohit Sharma has displayed on so many occasions. Perhaps, on that occasion, there was a level of complacency, a decline in courage and a loss of his usual consistency which came in the way. The score of 212 by the black caps was never such a daunting total, given the fact that every observer regarded 220 and 225 as a challenging total to reach on that ground.
Once the World Cup comes around, Virat Kohli will certainly feel equal to the task and will no doubt lead by example but it would be important for him to maintain a level of confidence, unfailing courage and consistency as captain. Most importantly, he must have faith in the ability of every member of his team. In this, he may turn to others but certainly maintain his active rapport with MS Dhoni, ‘Captain Cool’.
(The writer is former chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2002-15)
Writer: R. K Pachauri