Captain Virat Kohli’s final statement on Indian cricket at the end of the year was so true. He said, “2019 is one of India’s best years in cricket barring those 30 minutes at the World Cup.” If one reflects on the performance of Indian cricket in 2019 which started with a bang by beating Australia in a Test match series, for the first time, in Australia. This truly remarkable achievement by the Indian side not only gave it that much needed boost to their morale and confidence but also established them as the best Test side in the world.
There were a few defeats during the year but most of them were account of experimenting, resting senior players and giving opportunities to Indian players sitting on the bench.
The most significant moment that humbled the strong Indian cricket side and the year’s performances was their semi-final defeat against New Zealand in the World Cup. The Indian team had played extraordinarily well to head their group in the preliminary stage, losing only to the ultimate winners, England. Chasing a moderate total of 239 runs for victory, India’s formidable top order collapsed in just 30 minutes and were tottering at 24 for 4 even before the first 10 overs were bowled. India never recovered from that blow and their dream of winning another World Cup faded in the horizon.
Looking back at the curtains now drawn for the year, this was perhaps the only blemish that tarnished the significant performances of the India side. The great West Indian side had a similar moment in the 1983 final when they lost to India in the World Cup. To them then, it looked like a total that they would normally chase without blinking an eyelid, but, it turned out to be their nemesis.
Cricket has these uncertain moments and the song, “one moment in time” sung by the wonderful singer Whitney Huston for the summer Olympics in 1988 held in Seoul, is so appropriate, not only for an individual but also for a team. These precious moments are all that one hopes and prays for, in the life of a sportsman. This is what finally establishes them and the team of being a winner or an also ran.
The South African cricket side is a good example of how mental pressure of failure could even affect future teams. They have on many occasions looked like a winning side in an ICC tournament and have failed to deliver due to several different reasons. The side is now branded in world cricket as “chokers” and this tag, unfortunately, has remained every time their side plays in another ICC World Cup tournament. They have in the last two decades produced some outstanding cricketers, but somehow lady-luck has never blessed them when they most need it to break out of the barriers of the past.
The year 2020 has the World T20 later in the year in Australia. India will be one of the likely tournament favourites, especially as they have two of the best T20 batsmen in Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli as well as three of the top pace bowlers in Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. At present, the likely Indian T20 team will comprise of a majority of the players who were part of their World Cup 2019 side.
This is a major factor that concerns one. For India to be successful, they will need to forget those disastrous 30 minutes of their moment in time of the year 2019. The skills, confidence and capability of the Indian side are well known to one and all, but the team will be tested more on their mental rather than on their cricketing capabilities.
This is where the BCCI will need to play a significant part in ensuring that a mental coaching and strengthening is also an important part in the preparation of the side for the World Cup T20.
International cricket is played more in the mind than on the field. For them to be at the world stage, already makes them players who have the potential and skill to be there. With less than a dozen T20I games left in the Indian calendar before their first World T20 match on October 24, 2020, they not only require to fill the million dollar question that still prevails about the middle order batters, but also, about their mental preparation for the task ahead.
The IPL (Indian Premier League) will play an important part in the final composition of the Indian T20 side, but playing for a franchise is completely different from when one wears the Indian colours.
With more than a billion people following every step of the teams’ progress and the added responsibility of playing for the nation, the pressures are as different as chalk and cheese.
One wishes the Indian team a super 2020, with victory over New Zealand and Australia in order to qualify for the final of the ongoing World Test Championship, as well as for them to bring the World T20 trophy home — a cup that they won in the inaugural year of 2007.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer)