Play­ers are con­scious that they could make his­tory

Deccan Chronicle - - Cricket - Ayaz Me­mon

In­dia are on the cusp of com­plet­ing an un­prece­dent­edly suc­cess­ful tour Down Un­der if they beat New Zealand in the fi­nal T20 match and clinch the se­ries.

Bar­ring the T20 se­ries against Aus­tralia, which was marred by in­clement weather, the team(s) have tri­umphed in all other con­tests in the past three months. Go­ing by the flaw­less per­for­mance in the sec­ond T20 match against New Zealand, clearly the play­ers are con­scious that they could make his­tory. In peck­ing or­der, win­ning the Border-Gavaskar Test rub­ber ob­vi­ously takes prime po­si­tion. In­dia had never beaten Aus­tralia in an away se­ries, which had ag­o­nized play­ers and fans for 71 years.

True, the Aus­tralians were not at full strength this time. But the ob­sta­cle for In­dia was more psy­cho­log­i­cal than tech­ni­cal or in terms of tal­ent. Now that this men­tal block has been over­come, teams tour­ing Aus­tralia in fu­ture will be far more con­fi­dent of wins The ODI se­ries wins against Aus­tralia and New Zealand have enor­mous sig­nif­i­cance too con­sid­er­ing that the World Cup starts in a few months. This holds true for ev­ery team, so there were no free­bies.

As it is, in limited overs cricket for­mat the dif­fer­ence be­tween teams gets nar­rowed down from the five-day game. The shorter the match, the more level the play­ing field which is why new teams like Afghanistan and Ire­land, while strug­gling in Tests, can sur­prise the best in T20. What im­pressed most about In­dia’s ODI wins in Aus­tralia and par­tic­u­larly New Zealand who have a daunt­ing record at home was not just the mar­gin of vic­to­ries, but also how the team played.

Threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tions in many matches were stymied by play­ers who rose to the oc­ca­sion, in­di­vid­u­ally or col­lec­tively.

This sug­gests a side primed to win, phys­i­cally, men­tally and tac­ti­cally.

A piv­otal fac­tor in this ob­vi­ously stems from com­pet­i­tive urge. Play­ers and teams take the field to win. If there is am­biva­lence in this thought process, the re­sults can be dis­as­trous, as is high­lighted in sport ev­ery so of­ten.

The sec­ond is per­ti­nent in the cur­rent con­text. There is rag­ing in­ternecine con­test for places in the World Cup squad. With play­ers striv­ing to make their mark, this has also helped the team per­for­mance soar. From a group of about 25 play­ers in the short list, only 15 can make the cut. Be­fore this tour be­gan, there were only 4-5 cer­tain­ties. Now one can count 12-13. Yet things could still change in the re­main­ing five ODI matches against Aus­tralia start­ing in a fort­night.

Given the abun­dance of tal­ent in In­dian cricket cur­rently, the task of the se­lec­tors and team man­age­ment hasn’t been easy. It could get even tougher as the days to the World Cup wind down. Per­haps the most im­por­tant fac­tor in the over­all suc­cess of the team across for­mats is that the cam­paign Down Un­der was bet­ter planned than say in South Africa and Eng­land, the other over­seas tours in the pre­vi­ous year.

This was par­tic­u­larly true of the Tests against Aus­tralia. The tal­ent pool for all three tours was pretty much the same. What changed in Aus­tralia was per­spec­tive. After the set­backs in South Africa and Eng­land, there was ac­cep­tance that matches can’t be won on bravado alone.

Lessons had been well learnt. The tac­tics in Aus­tralia were sharper. What made the dif­fer­ence was how quickly the bats­men and bowlers adapted to the con­di­tions so as not to be un­set­tled in the early part of the se­ries, al­ways the bane for tour­ing teams of the past. Most im­por­tantly the play­ers showed greater re­solve, high­lighted in the bat­ting where play­ers like Pu­jara and even Kohli — oth­er­wise an ag­gres­sive stroke­player — were pre­pared to grind out the runs and frus­trate the home team. This form and ap­proach was car­ried for­ward into the limited over se­ries too. Win­ning in sport is an ac­quired habit. This only de­vel­ops when play­ers come to rel­ish it.

Rank­ings give an in­di­ca­tion of a team’s worth, but this can of­ten be mis­lead­ing. For in­stance, a glut of home wins can skew the rank­ings in a team’s favour. The real ev­i­dence of supremacy is only when a team does this con­sis­tently.

In­dia look to be bridg­ing the gap be­tween a good team and a cham­pion side.

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