Team India
source: ICC cricket website

Another year, another failure for Team India at the international level, while its most contemporary one happens to be in the ICC World Test Championship (WTC) Final 2023 against Australia at The Oval in London, as the former was drubbed by 209 runs. It was the second time in a row that India had failed to come out on top in the grand finale of the competition, losing to New Zealand a couple of years back in Southampton. Moreover, India’s run of immature performance in the International Cricket Council (ICC) tournaments continued, with the ‘choker’ tag becoming more prominent and suitable for them with each passing ICC event.

In both the WTC Finals, India has failed to come up with a substantial performance. Although both finals saw India taking it to the fourth innings, things failed to go the Indians’ way, as while New Zealand chased it down the last time, India failed to chase it down this time. From batting to bowling, nothing worked in India’s favour, while some off-the-field factors also resulted in India’s low-key performance, as we analyse four of them.

IPL and fatigue

The first and foremost reason that comes to my and most of the Indian fans’ minds is the so-called greatest Twenty20 (T20) league of the world, the Indian Premier League (IPL). Notably, it was barely over a week before the WTC Final went underway that the IPL 2023 ended. With the tournament spanning for a couple of months, it is a no-brainer that it takes a lot out of the players, leaving them both physically and mentally fatigued.

Therefore, playing a high-octane WTC Final barely a week after the IPL conclusion is foolishness to the power infinity. Also, with the two formats being contrastingly different, it makes it mentally tough for the players to switch to the longest format right away after coming from a two-month-long T20 mode. While some might debate that the players keep switching formats regularly during bilateral commitments, it must be noted that the window for a particular format during the same is extremely short, making it a seamless task for the players to switch, compared to an obnoxiously long IPL.

And it’s not just me, but Indian skipper Rohit Sharma too feels that same, as he said after the WTC Final loss, “Why after the IPL final? Why cannot it be March? June is not the only month we should play the final. It can be played any time of the year and anywhere in the world, not just in England, it can be played anywhere in the world.”

“Event like this, final like this, you need a lot of time to prepare yourself, and that is what we did the last time when we were here in England. We had good 25-30 days to prepare ourselves. And you saw the result. We were 2-1 up until that game got called off. We would want to have a good time in hand to prepare, give enough rest to the bowlers,” added Rohit.

“And then, Test cricket requires a lot of discipline, hitting that area consistently and challenging the batsmen – but again, you know Shami, Siraj, Umesh – they all are experienced. But, in an ideal scenario, yes, I would prefer if we have 20, 25 days to prepare for a game like this,” Rohit attested.

While the next WTC Final takes place in England again in 2025 at the historic venues of Lord’s in London, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) must ensure to reschedule the IPL before the event or allow rest of at least a month for the participating players in the WTC Final from IPL. The franchises can be compensated by allowing them to sign a top-class replacement player beforehand during the IPL Auction.

Sub-standard pitches

During this WTC cycle, India played six series, three at home and three overseas, while notably, one of the overseas commitments happened to be in the sub-continent, in Bangladesh, which India won seamlessly. As for the other two, India drew in England 2-2 and lost in South Africa 1-2. Evidently, India’s overseas performance outside the sub-continent has not been adequate this term.

Also, the series that India played at home was somewhat played on sub-standard pitches, mainly turning ones, which has been India’s strength. While it is understandable that India did it to ensure its clear path into the final, what BCCI could have done here was to ensure to prepare the tracks with some amount of grass on them, having already known that the final would be played in England, where such pitches are common. Nonetheless, the same can be done by the BCCI in the upcoming cycle to ensure better preparations for Team India.

Over-reliance on veterans

India has long been reliant on veteran experience, especially in the longer formats, to come out on top. While it did work in some circumstances, it doesn’t always work. As for the WTC Final, the veterans Rohit, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli failed to come up with a formidable and consistent performance. Although they tried to fight back in the second innings, it was not enough, as they failed to score even 50, which is considered that bare-minimum landmark in Tests.

The only veteran to have performed was Ajinkya Rahane, who scored above 100 runs considering both innings, thanks to his prolific First-Class (FC) from, which was also somewhat aided by his IPL 2023 show. While Rohit was also backed as an ideal Test leader and batter to see India scale greater heights, it seems that age has indeed caught up with him and does not have enough left in his tank in the longer formats. Moreover, the BCCI might have been somewhat late to hand him the leadership duties, given its persistence with Kohli for the last eight years.

While Test specialist Pujara was heavily backed to come out on top, even he fared poorly despite having a monumental stint with Sussex in the County Championship this season. Nonetheless, delivering in Division 2 of the competition and performing in the WTC Final are two vastly contrasting issues. Thus, it could be about time that India moves on from the veteran module and groom young talents also for the longest format, with the likes of Shubman Gill, Ravindra Jadeja and Rishabh Pant in the fray.

Lack of winning mentality

Even before the final had gone underway, there were doubts about how seriously was BCCI and Team India considering this tie and eyeing a win. While calls were made to rest the participating player beforehand during IPL 2023, BCCI paid no heed to the suggestions and only took the first batch of players to the United Kingdom (UK) after they were done with the league-stage commitments and their team had failed to make it to the playoffs.

Naturally, it led to sub-standard preparations for the Indians, and as Rohit said, a 20-25-day window is needed to prepare ideally for such critical encounters. Also, what the BCCI could have done was to have the participating players rested halfway through the league stage and allow them to participate in the playoffs/final if their respective sides have qualified.

But, it seems like the BCCI sinks into pressure from the franchises, who are reluctant to let their star players rest, having invested a pool of money into them. And, if that is the case, there would hardly be any winning mentality, thanks to the physical and mental fatigue. Also, when Team India head coach Rahul Dravid was asked about the pressure the Indians had to win an ICC title, he shocked everyone by saying that there was hardly any pressure on them.

“We don’t feel any pressure in terms of trying to win an ICC trophy. Of course, it would be nice to do it. It would be certainly nice to be able to win an ICC tournament. But in the context of things, you look at this, and you see this is the culmination of two years of work. It’s a culmination of a lot of success that gets you here,” he had said.

Author’s take

Seriously! No pressure! What kind of mentality is that from Team India? If there is no pressure, it means that the BCCI is fine with the side not winning the trophy and would be contained with the runner-up recognition. And, if that is the mentality, why does BCCI bother playing the WTC Final? It can be satisfied with the IPL, having made loads of money. What’s the point of fielding a worn-off squad in the WTC Final when there is no winning mentality? Wouldn’t India be better off without participating rather than shooting itself in the leg by playing with an under-prepared squad? I simply have no words to back this up.

Also, such observations coming from a legend like Dravid simply kill the charm. Maybe, he is better off with India A and India U-19, but with such a mentality, I doubt how Team India will attain success at the international level.


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