Who cares about the Champions Trophy? The ICC wanted a Test championship for 2017. The broadcasters didn’t approve of it, and major nations couldn’t come to a consensus about the format of that championship either. All of them wanted money though, and thus this tournament – thought to have breathed its last in 2013 – lived on.
What is the purpose of the Champions Trophy? More money doesn’t mean that this tournament was subject to a merry-go-round. England were slated to host the inaugural Test championship, and since that didn’t take off, they are happily playing host to this edition again. But for the 2019 ODI World Cup, it would have lost its essence. Any sense of purpose to this three-week competition is provided in terms of insightful preparation for the future.
Somewhere between these lines, the Champions Trophy is facing an existential crisis. In a sport caught up between three formats, the ODI World Cups and the World T20s are where you win all the prestige and money (in that order). There is a want for the Test championship, just that no one knows how to go about it. Caught as a blur in all of this, Champions Trophy is the illegitimate child of the cricketing world, wherein nobody cares about anything but selfish interests.
For the ICC, it means an additional tournament watched with peaked interest. For the ECB, it means another windfall summer. For the English team, it means a chance to test the waters of their newfound credentials. For the rest of the countries participating, it means viable practice for a future World Cup. In there, this Indian team – led by Virat Kohli for the first time in an ICC tournament – is seeking an identity of its own.
Even without trying, you know this is a different Indian team from the one that played – and won – the 2013 edition. Kohli is the captain, not just the alpha batsman, with MS Dhoni taking a background role as senior pro. This is an obvious fact, but underlines the key difference.
Remember 2013? Indian cricket was in the doldrums. Dhoni’s captaincy was reeling under one storm after another (read 8-0 plus 2-1 loss at home to England). He survived it, somehow, and so did coach Duncan Fletcher. His coaching stint didn’t inspire much confidence in the scheme of things either. And then, of course, there was the IPL spot fixing scandal that was just starting to brew.
On the field too, India were beset with problems. There was a new opening pair of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, the composition of the middle order was untrustworthy, and the bowling simply didn’t inspire confidence. Despite these factors India still won this tournament four years ago, an achievement not to be baulked at, for it set them up for a journey until the semi-finals of the 2015 ODI World Cup.
Throughout this two-year period though, the Indian ODI side didn’t bear a settled look. It owed mainly to experimentation pertaining to options available in the middle order – from trying Ajinkya Rahane and Ambati Rayudu, to giving Stuart Binny a trial run, and allowing the five-bowler theory to work. It was as if various different pieces had come together to hold the ship together, even if not all of them fit the right mould.
This underlines the major difference between Dhoni and Kohli. Through his long term as captain, Dhoni had helped rebuild the team time and again (across formats). Combined with the circumstances aforementioned then, the 2013 Champions Trophy win was as epochal as the 2007 World T20 triumph, for a dogged captain hauled his side across the finish line on both occasions.
That was Dhoni’s trademark, putting together a superlative win in the face of stacked-up odds. You wouldn’t know his mind if he didn’t want you to know, keeping his tricks up the sleeve until the last possible moment, seen in both his leadership and batting. And the teams he led were reflective of that trait.
Kohli, in comparison, is too direct with his approach towards the game. He is very dissimilar to his predecessor, carrying his emotions and thoughts on the sleeve. You don’t have to bother wondering about his views – just ask him and he will give you a plain answer.
Just sample what he had to say when the Indian team landed here in London. “This year the team is a lot fitter, the cricketers are a lot more mature because that was a very young group four years ago. It has gained a lot of experience in the last three or four years,” said Kohli, thus outlining his expectations from this Indian squad.
Before January 2017, the last time Kohli led an Indian ODI side was in November 2014. Dhoni was rested as a second-string Sri Lanka side filled in for West Indies. India won 5-0, but would that victory be akin to what Kohli achieves now as skipper? Back then he was still only leading a team mirrored on someone else’s persona. Even the 2-1 win over England five months ago is more important for that was first true imprint of Kohli’s thinking on this ODI team.
So far, we have seen him lead the Test side with aplomb, and he has given the Indian team a different character in the longer format – one with in-your-face aggression and gets results with boldness. Limited-overs’ cricket is different – T20s are a quick adrenaline fix, while ODIs have a slower release albeit with moments interspersed with T20ish pace about them.
Consequentially, the 2017 Champions Trophy becomes a marker for Kohli to further imprint himself on this Indian team, and garner a firmer identity for this experienced set of players, one that would stand until the 2019 ODI World Cup at least.