Cricket’s New ‘Almost’ Team

Over the last two years, the Indian cricket teams – both senior and junior – have played a total of three major ICC tournaments. These include the ICC World T20 tournament in 2014 (held in Bangladesh), the ODI World Cup (held in Australia) and the U-19 World Cup (held in Bangladesh). Of course, there was also the Asia Cup in 2014, but that was held early, and the Indian ODI team didn’t even make it to the finals. 

So let’s focus on these three famous tournaments. A worrying trend is slowly revealing itself – one that would earlier be associated with Sri Lankan cricket teams (final 2007 World Cup, final 2009 ICC T20, final 2012 ICC T20, final 2011 World Cup), before they won the ICC World T20 in 2014 and the Asia Cup in quick succession. This was when the likes of Sangakkara and Jayawardene were still at their peak. They went from the heartbroken ‘almost’ team to actual winners of title matches. 

India, meanwhile, has now taken Sri Lanka’s place. And more so – they’ve done this in a different fashion. Three times in a row now, the Indian teams have dominated the whole tournament and gone unbeaten right till the final match or one of the knockout games. This was much like the South African teams of the 90s, where they’d zoom through the group stages, become favorites, and fall at the first knockout hurdle. 

2014 ICC T20 World Cup

It began here. A year after winning the Champion’s Trophy in England, the Indian team entered this tournament as one of the favorites. They justified that tag in style too. In a group of death with Australia, Pakistan, defending champions West Indies and hosts Bangladesh, India won all their 4 group matches in convincing fashion. They chased scores of 130-odd against Pakistan, Bangladesh and West Indies with ease, before bowling Australia out for 86 in their final group game. By now, India were chest-thumping favorites and looked virtually unbeatable. Other teams ran scared. These were familiar conditions, and Virat Kohli batted like he was on another planet, and even the bowlers rose to the occasions repeatedly. India then chased down 172 against South Africa (who have never made the final) in the semis. They went into the title match against Sri Lanka as overwhelming favorites.

Then, 130 happened. Yuvraj came undone. Kohli played a lone hand. And Sri Lanka finally won their World Cup. It all came crashing down in 20 overs. They had scored a similar number against England a year ago in a shortened 50-over final of the Champion’s Trophy, but England imploded midway through that final. Here, Sri Lanka were powered by Sangakkara, who made sure they’d not falter. India were beaten. This was an upset. 

2015 ICC ODI World Cup

The Indian cricket team entered the tournament as underdogs. They weren’t even expected to go past their group stages – thanks to an inexperienced seam bowling attack of Shami, Yadav and Mohit Sharma. But then, something wondrous happened. India became the premier Asian team down under. They won ALL their 6 group matches – bowling out sides like Pakistan, South Africa, West Indies, and Ireland in less than 50 overs. Their bowlers were on a roll, and they continued to take 10 wickets every innings. They then defeated Bangladesh in the semifinal after scoring a 300+ score again, before they came undone against an Australian side slowly gaining form in the semis. This was heartbreaking, because India had almost never gone through to the semis of a World Cup in such convincing fashion, unbeaten and dominant. They came up against the eventual World Champions – yes – but they also fell when it mattered the most. 


2016 U-19 World Cup 

Under new coach Rahul Dravid, the Indian colts went from strength to strength, and by the end, it appeared as though they could only be beaten by a miracle. They won their group games against Nepal, New Zealand and Ireland by large margins, before their batting clicked bigtime against Namibia in the quarterfinals (349/6) and against Sri Lanka in the semis (267/9). All this while, they had bowled out teams for less than 200. Until the unthinkable happened. They fell for a meager 145 to West Indies in the final, and lost the match against a team that was on the verge of an exit not too long ago against Zimbabwe in the group stages. Once again, India’s Goliath was felled by another David. 

With the 2016 ICC T20 World Cup coming up in a month, the Indian T20 team, ranked #1 in the world, will start as favorites again in home conditions. They find themselves in a group with Pakistan, New Zealand, Australia and a qualifier – most likely Bangladesh. This is a tough T20 group, with all teams capable of winning on their day. However, if India go through this group unbeaten again, let’s hope we don’t know what to expect. 

 

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