‘Ab to aadat si hai mujhko aise jeene me” This Hindi song line which roughly translates to- Its become a habit now for me to live like this- aptly applies to every Indian cricket fan that was watching the Indian colts lock horns with Bangladesh in the U19 World Cup final on Sunday. They have seen it all, haven’t they?
They have seen it far too many times in the past seven-eight years. They have seen their senior men’s team falter in every possible manner at the final hurdle; they have seen their batsmen freeze against the pinpoint accuracy of the opposition bowlers (Read T20 WC Final 2014); they have seen their World Champion side get blown away by an unrelenting opposition (Read: 2015 WC semi-final); they have found themselves tearing their hair off (if any), seeing their bowlers bowl those fateful no-balls- not once but thrice in two successive knockouts (Read: 2016 T20 WC semi-final and 2017 CT final).
Hell! They have even seen their worst fears come true last year when India’s shoddy planning was exposed to the hilt in the semi-final of the 2019 World Cup. And, it is not only restricted to only Men’s senior team, the Indian cricket teams- whether it is Men’s, Women’s or even the U19s- have followed the same template in nearly every ICC event since that memorable 2013 Champions Trophy win in England.
That template is: Enter the tournament as favorites, steamroll everyone in their way to reach the knockouts before freezing at the final hurdle. Wait! Isn’t the same thing that we used to say for South Africa during their prime when they would beat everyone easily in their path in the league-stage before falling away substantially when it really mattered, paving way for that dreaded C word becoming their identity.
Is India following South Africa’s way to lose in the knockouts?
And, what has been truly disappointing is that they have bottled winnable positions most of the times. Barring the 2015 WC semi-final defeat to Australia and to some extent the 2017 shellacking against Pakistan where India was virtually outplayed, almost every knockout match that India has lost has been because of their inability to win those small-but-significant moments and the penchant towards getting froze when it really mattered.
For, how would you explain the harakiri that saw the Women’s team lose 7-28 and get bowled out for 219 when they looked prime to overhaul England’s total of 228 in the 2017 World Cup final? Or the two no-balls that Ashwin and Pandya bowled in the 2016 T20 WC semi-final against the West Indies or the collapse of 7-21 in the recently concluded U19 World Cup final?
It is the inability to cash in on the small moments on the big stage that has paved way for a plethora of heartbreaks for the Indian cricket fans. Some may turn around and say, ‘Oh! At least they are reaching the top-4 every tournament!’ and yeah, while that is true Team India- across genders and age-groups- have been the team to beat in every ICC event, it is also true that India should have won at least half of those tournaments had it not been for their inability to crumble when it mattered the most.
India are at that stage in International cricket where they are brimming with precocious talents but that would amount to nothing if they keep faltering at the final hurdle. And as Keith Miller once said: “Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your ar*e, playing cricket is not.”
It is all about the mindset. But Indian cricket must understand that a dangerous pattern- of faltering at the final hurdle- is threatening to become a mindset! Sunday night was just another example of it.
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