India can cheer up despite the loss to Oz

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Team India’s four year reign as World Champions is now over. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men eventually gave away their title after going down to Australia by 95 runs in the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup at Sydney. For the cricket crazy nation that treats the game as a religion and players as demi-gods, the loss in the World Cup semifinal was no doubt disappointing. The loss also brought to the fore, yet again, the fickle nature of the Indian cricket fans when it comes to cricket. For the fans cricketers cannot afford to lose and just tend to forget that it is just a game. Predictably, as seen over the years, after each and every failure of Men in Blue, the repeated rituals of protests take over — smashing TV sets and burning players’ effigies. Resultantly, security is beefed up around cricketers’ houses. This was the scenario till now.

But this time fans touched another low by venting their ire on Bollywood actress and Virat Kohli’s rumoured girlfriend, Anushka Sharma. Strangely and rather bizarre though, Anushka was blamed for Kohli’s flop show in the semi-finals. The comments on social networking sites like Twitter blaming Anushka made Bollywood to rally around the actress. All stood up in one voice for Anushka. The likes of Priyanka Chopra, Sushmita Sen, Bipasha Basu, Abhishek Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, Madhur Bhandarkar and Dia Mirza all condemned the distasteful remarks on the actress. Even, Indian tennis star Sania Mirza also took to Twitter and slammed the comments on Anushka and termed them as shameful.

Former team India skipper, Sourav Ganguly also came out in support of Anushka Sharma. He was quoted as saying, “What wrong Anushka has done? She had only gone to see a cricket match like the families of other players. It is unfair to blame her for Kohli’s performance. It is the immaturity of people (criticising Anushka). When two people are in love, there is nothing wrong in that.”

So coming back to India’s World Cup 2015 campaign, the question is, was India really disappointing? Losing a crown that one held for four years is really sad. But overall for the future of Indian cricket, if one looks at it minutely the picture is far from gloomy.

It is true that India had a forgettable Test series against Australia and a dismal ODI tri-series later on. It was winless before the World Cup got under way. From such a worst scenario, it was indeed remarkable on the part of Dhoni and his devils to qualify for the semi-final on top of seven successive victories. And they played like defending champions till they clashed against the eventual winners, Australia. Team Director Ravi Shastri’s clear talk and positive cricket mantra are finally showing their positive aspects.

Skipper Dhoni has led from the front. After ending his Test career abruptly, Dhoni rallied his men with his astute leadership and in the process created history by winning 100 ODI matches as a skipper. Resultantly, he is evolving as India’s greatest ever ODI skipper.

Moreover, going into the World Cup 2015, Indian bowling was anything but effective. After Injuries to Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, many said India’s campaign is doomed. But the Indian bowlers did an outstanding job. The unknown seam trio of Umesh Yadav (18), Mohammad Shami (17) and Mohit Sharma (13) took 48 wickets between themselves and dismissed the opposition 7 out of 8 times in the tournament. Ravichandran Ashwin, whose overseas record till date was nightmarish, bowled well in the big event scalping 13 wickets. It was indeed ironical that the Indian bowlers had one bad day against Australia and that tragically cut short their World Cup defence.

Harsha Bhogle wrote in his column, “India’s top order was very good batting first, but not quite resolute in a chase. For all the ability it possesses, it still places an uncomfortable reliance on Virat. But you get the feeling that with him, as with other three in the top order, that their best World Cup could be ahead of them.”

India were 4 down for 92 against Zimbabwe chasing 288 and against West Indies they were 4/78 chasing 182. But they romped eventually on both these occasions. India must be thankful to Dhoni as his knocks of 85 & 45 against Zimbabwe and West Indies respectively took Indian boat to the shores of safety. However, it was not just the skipper even others also played some match-winning knocks. Shikhar Dhawan (137) against South Africa, Ajinkya Rahane (79) against South Africa, Virat Kohli (107) against Pakistan, Suresh Raina (110) against Zimbabwe and Rohit Sharma (137) against Bangladesh. In the semi-final, India were four down for 102 and yet again Dhoni waged a lone battle with a run-a-ball 65. However, it was not Dhoni’s day, India’s day to be precise.

While analysing India’s campaign and looking into the future, Dhoni in a post match press conference after the semifinal loss hinted at playing the 2016 T20 World Cup but was not very forthcoming about the 2019 World Cup. He nevertheless is convinced that the current lot will evolve in due time. “This is a very young team that has played together for a few years now. There are some very talented players who have done well consistently,” the captain said.

Dhoni’s faith in the team is not misplaced as it is still very young and will only get better as the time progresses. Suresh Raina (28), Shikhar Dhawan (29) Virat Kohli (26), Ajinkya Rahane(26) and Rohit Sharma (27) all have plenty of cricket left in them. “This batting order will remain unchanged in the coming years. So whatever they have learnt till now will hold them in good stead for the upcoming foreign tours.”

It was a trial by fire for Indian cricket after the exit of the ‘fabulous four’ — Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly. Dhawan, Rohit, Kohli and Rahane can easily become the ‘fab four’ of the future generation.

So, while India may have lost the World Cup to Australia, there are certainly a lot of positives for the Men in Blue as they go into the future — promising set of batsmen, emergence of a new breed of fast bowlers, sharp fielders and inspiring leadership of Dhoni.

Lastly, While India’s exit from the World Cup was viewed rather harshly, there were some stars who came out in strong support of Team India. India’s ace shooter Abhinav Bindra is one of them. Bindra described India’s performance in the tournament as “brave”. “These extreme reactions reinforce the fact that our country has no sports culture. We have a long way to go to become a sporting nation,” Bindra tweeted. Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar too rallied behind the team by tweeting, “Well played Team India. A tough game today and a loss is always difficult to handle. But you have played some terrific cricket throughout and all the fans have enjoyed watching you.” So, all in all Indian cricket may be down but certainly not out, by any stretch of imagination.

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