“I intend to make them grovel”, said England captain Tony Greig about the touring West Indies team on the eve of their first test in 1976. West Indies were coming on the back of a 5-1 humiliation in Australia and despite performing well in tour games, Tony Greig didn’t give them much of a chance. Seeing his team on the brink of a 3-0 defeat in the final Test Tony Greig realised he had made the cardinal mistake of underestimating his opponents and sought redemption by groveling to the crowd.
Recalling the Test series, Viv Richards later said that Tony Greig’s statement was "The greatest motivating speech the England captain could have given to any West Indian team." Sportsmen are a proud species, you try to hurt their pride and they will do anything in their power to give it back.
More recently, Niroshan Dickwella looked visibly hurt by some of the social media banter before the India vs Sri Lanka game and didn’t miss a chance to put some “experts”, who thought this is just a “practice game” for India, back in their place.
David vs Goliath is an oft used cliche in a sporting contest but hardly any contest is that lopsided at the highest level. The difference between the skill levels of athletes representing their country at the highest level isn’t as wide as some undiscerning fans perceive it to be. In fact, sports exists in the modern day partially as a reminder of the unpredictabilities of life and teaches us to stay humble and grounded in victory and defeat.
When it comes to India vs Pakistan rivalry, sections of Indian media and fans have been anything but humble about their recent victories against the arch rivals. A sizeable number of people have developed an unending appetite for mindless hubris disguised as banter and television channels, in particular, have been happy to serve them an unlimited buffet of uncouth bravado.
As it turned out, Pakistan produced a clinical display of skills on the big day and completely outclassed an Indian side that appeared better on paper. It had to happen some day, the law of averages had to catch up.
India will be gutted by the defeat and rightly so. Their streak of victories in important encounters against Pakistan was broken on Sunday. Nothing hurts like coming so close to being champions only to quietly watch from the window of your dressing room as your opponents celebrate.
Pakistan was ranked eighth coming into the tournament which meant nothing of course based on their past record. Rankings and statistics matter little in Pakistan’s scheme of things. They haven’t been the greatest ODI team in the past couple of years but has enough match winners in their ranks to be taken seriously.
Due to lack of bilateral series between India and Pakistan, and the absence of Pakistan players from the IPL, an average Indian cricket fan doesn’t tend to follow Pakistan’s results so much and a general narrative had developed deeming Pakistan a walk over with hardly any world class players left with them. Nothing could be far from the truth.
The defeat though is a timely reminder of the game’s vagaries to those who treat the result as a foregone conclusion. It also restores a much-needed sense of proportion to the India vs Pakistan rivalry, which in many ways is one of the greatest rivalries in sports.
The defeat also gives India a chance to regroup and refocus their efforts in ironing out its weaknesses. World T20 exit last year was the first reminder of team’s batting and bowling depth in limited over games. ICC Champions trophy is probably a second reminder of the same.
Of course, a runner-up doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of. The team had a good tournament overall just to come short on the final day, it can happen to anyone. But this team has potential to be a great team and truly dominate the sport over the next decade the way the Australian and West Indian teams have done in their heyday. They shouldn’t settle for anything less. Good is the enemy of great.
The first order of things on India’s agenda right after Champions Trophy should be a change in personnel. The team can’t afford to carry players who aren’t in the prime of their fitness till 2019. They also need to find bowlers who can give Kohli more wicket taking bowlers in the middle overs. One day cricket is becoming more and more a game about controlling the middle overs well and during both their losses in this tournament, India fell short of bowling options in the middle period.
The good news for Indian cricket is that there is no shortage of talent pool. This year’s IPL saw young Indian batsmen prosper like never before and the selectors must ensure the top performers from IPL and India’s other domestic tournament continue to get a look in.
For all the talk of taking experienced heads to the big ICC tournament, India was outclassed by Mendis, Gunathilaka, and Zaman, all rookies at this level. India shouldn’t be worried about throwing their own rookies in the deep waters. Good athletes tend to have great adaptability, India shouldn’t mind taking a few risks if there are chances of unearthing the next diamond.