The Champions Trophy is a battle for crown among the eight best cricket teams of the world. Rankings mean nothing, any team can beat any other on a given day. Four of these teams have won the 50-over World Cup — sub-continental sides India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, besides Australia. So, to say the Sri Lankans were not expected to beat India makes little sense.
Not many may today name the Sri Lankan or Pakistan squads off-hand like they could do during the time Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene or Muttiah Muralitharan graced the field or a Pakistani line-up included the likes of Inzamam-ul Haq, Younus Ahmed, Mohammad Yousuf, Misbah-ul-Haq, Shoaib Akhtar or Shahid Afridi. They may even remember a majority of today’s Bangladesh players.
That doesn’t mean the game has stagnated in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Both are in the process of rebuilding their teams after the retirement of some of their all-time greats. They have bright prospects, waiting for the right opportunity to showcase their talent.
Former Sri Lankan captain Sangakkara, a commentator at the ongoing Champions Trophy, talked highly of Sri Lankan youngsters Danushka Gunathilaka, the two Kusals — Mendis and Pereira — and Asela Gunaratne. They all played carefree cricket with their captain Angela Matthews piloting them to overhaul a 322-run target set by India.
India’s captain Virat Kohli was honest in saying that he would not like to blame any department in his side, they were simply overwhelmed by the daredevilry of the Sri Lankan cubs. You can’t say 322 runs were short by 20-30, nor can you blame the bowlers. Yes, it is a fashion to blame the batsmen or the bowlers for a loss instead of admitting that the opposition was superior on the park on the day.
Kohli is right, India are not invincible. They had enough when they went on to field and the bowlers never appeared wilting till well past the half-way stage of the Sri Lankan innings. It looked it was a matter of a wicket or two to pull back things. The batsmen took chances and they came off, they could have come unstuck, too.
One can be wiser after the event and say India goofed up in picking its attack by omitting Ravichandran Ashwin just because Ravindra Jadeja and Hardik Pandy failed to deliver. The two seemed good in the match against Pakistan, Pandya hitting those sixes and both bowling and fielding well.
Suddenly, it is realised that batting is India’s strong suit so it should provide a bit of a cushion by scoring 20-30 runs more to offset a possible day off for a bowler. All arguments will fall flat once you lose. Everyone will have to pull his weight and cover for each other. But it is easier said than done on certain days.
Matthew rehearsed his lines well for the post-match comments: “You know, no one really expected us to win. That took a lot of pressure off ourselves, and we just went out there, expressed ourselves, and you can see what we can do when we play with a lot of freedom.”
Now the Sri Lankans have a good chance of making the semi-finals, but Matthew does not want to look too far ahead, he just wants his forces to go out and express themselves in the knockout game against Pakistan. Like they were badly beaten by South Africa in their opening match, Pakistan, too, were outclassed by India in their opener before rallying to beat the Proteas to stay in contention.
If Matthew has sympathised with his under-fire coach Graham Ford for the team’s recent performances before the India game, surprisingly no one has attributed India’s loss to the feud between Kohli and his coach Anil Kumble!
The only inference drawn is that the loss has put Kohli on the back foot, brightening the chances of Kumble continuing as chief coach. Inspired media leaks cannot set things right, they can only vitiate the atmosphere.
In a competition like this, a team should be prepared to rough it out as one loss can make life difficult as it has happened with India. They now need to beat South Africa in their last group game this Sunday in order to qualify for the semi-finals.
If you think you have the men to take on the best in business, you have to be prepared for any eventuality.
Fear is not the answer, think of the battle on hand, not the repercussion if you, as reigning champions, return empty handed.