INDIA VS AUSTRALIA, 2019
The Indian captain expects his players to be smart about their game time in IPL and stay in touch with the team physio throughout the tournament © Getty
There was a defining moment in India’s chase in Delhi when they began to acknowledge that perhaps their proud home record in bilateral ODIs was going to end here, at the capital, afterall. Rohit Sharma played with the Adam Zampa fire on a couple of occasions before he was eventually burnt. He charged out to the leggie, missed the ball, lost his bat, and then his wicket.
Up in the second tier of the Feroz Shah Kotla, the Indian team management seated on the dressing room’s balcony watched the replay in deathly silence even as the video analyst hastily took notes. India were about to lose their first home ODI series under Virat Kohli, under whom they’d never ever lost three consecutive ODIs. Before today that is, the last of the ODIs before the World Cup.
The Indian captain was magnanimous to doff his hat to victors Australia, but maintained vehemently that the 2-3 reverse had not set the cat among the pigeons or force a re-look of team combinations. “None of the guys in the change room are panicking, the support staff is not feeling down after this defeat,” he said in his debrief. “Because we know the things that we were wanting to do in these last three games, but purely becase now, it’s only the World Cup after this in the One-Day competition. Us as a side, [we] feel balanced, it’s just that in the pressure moments, they showed more composure than us.
“To be honest, it doesn’t feel like something off has happened because we’ve been playing such good cricket. We’ve lost three games in a five-game series where the other team has really been more passionate and more energetic than us in the pressure moments and they’ve grabbed the crucial moments in the game better than us. And they deserve to win.”
India, like any other team playing ODIs in this swing, played this bilateral series with one eye on the World Cup in England. The series result, especially after a two-nil lead was taken in Nagpur, had become secondary to achieving larger objectives with respect to team combination. The back-up keeper is one such slot, as is the No.4 position, for which suitors had not effectively sealed their case.
Regular keeper MS Dhoni was rested after the third ODI, giving Rishabh Pant two games while Ambati Rayudu, the incumbent No.4, sat out with the team trialling two different solutions. The result of these moves neither provided the team with a definitive solution, with both players failing to make a mark, nor helped halt the Australian charge that hit the hosts hard in Ranchi, Mohali and Delhi. Kohli, though, opined that the management was clear on the combination, with potentially only one spot up for discussion.
“As a side, combination wise, we are pretty sorted condition based. Maximum one change, you’ll get to see,” Kohli said. “But other than that, the XI we want to play, we are pretty clear about it. As a side, we’re balanced. Hardik Pandya will come back to the team. With him, there’s batting depth, and bowling option opens up. We know where we have to go as a combination. The XI is clear in our head. We just have to take better decisions in pressure situations to go far in the World Cup.
“When you look at these games, them being international games, whoever plays, whoever gets a chance a play, we expect that guy to take responsibility and pressure. And hence you expose these kind of guys to pressure situations where a series is on the line and you expect someone to step up. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But unless you try, you wouldn’t know. So, that’s exactly what we wanted to do in these games. From that point of view, you can analyse. I cannot breakdown who we expect to take the pressure in the World Cup. Because unless the squad is announced, I cannot reveal.”
India, whose hectic season of cricket included the high of a Test series win in Australia in December-January, cannot cool their collective heels at the end of the season in preparation for the World Cup, starting last week of May. The players will split into different teams at the IPL, which will run until the second week of May. Kohli revealed that he had just one message for his players before they go their seprate ways, only to regroup at the end of the IPL.
“Exactly what we spoke in the end in the change room was: ‘just go and enjoy these two months in the IPL’. Don’t think of performance pressure or I have to do this or do that. I think we deserve to really just enjoy our cricket and just go out there and play because of the joy of playing the sport.
“Being on the road for so many months does take a toll on you as a team. I’m not saying that’s an excuse because you’re expected to do that and be motivated to win every game you’re playing for the country. When you have a long season you can always reflect on it. I am not someone who ever takes this as an excuse. If I’m not up to play a game mentally or physically, I’ll inform the management before and I think everyone’s responsible enough to do that.
“It’s been a hectic season and we are proud of the season – happy with the way we’ve played, happy with the way guys have come around and shown their ability as players and confidence we’ve carried as a team. It’s really great to see. From that point of view, I think all of us just deserve to go to the IPL and just enjoy these two months.”
As far as player workloads at the IPL was concerned, Kohli put the onus on the players to seek rest from the respective franchises in order to be at peak performing levels for the quadrennial event in England. “We’ve given the responsibility to the player to be smart and to inform the management of the franchise and be in touch with Patrick [Farhart], our physio.
“All the workload will be monitored during the World Cup – and given a window, the guys can afford to rest. I can guarantee that because a World Cup comes every four years and we play IPL every year. Not to say we won’t be committed to the IPL but we’ve got to be smart. We have to work in balance and take smart decisions. The responsibility and the onus is on the player. No-one will be forced to do something. Eventually everyone will know no-one wants to miss the World Cup and cost the team good balance.”