Tri-series in West Indies
The tag of ‘Champions’ does not rest easy on the shoulders of any Indian team. They have continuously shown that they would rather win tournaments as nobodies, and the tag of ‘favorites’ isn’t something they deal with very well. After 1983, they were slaughtered by West Indies, and took 2 years to find their feet again in 1985. The same with 2011, and now that they have found their feet and become Champions (1985:2013), expect another lull full of illogical defeats and form-defying losses.
Celebrate on field, not off it
In 2011, after India won theWorld Cup, the entire team began playing in the Indian Premier League just 3 days after the final in Mumbai. It did not matter if it was out of duty, choice, pressure or money- but the players were denied (or denied themselves) the opportunity to celebrate the biggest moment of their sporting careers. Regularly, even football teams have the off-season in between after winning the Champions League or a league title or a World Cup- with the only equivalent of Dhoni and co’s plight being the advent of Wimbledon just a month after theFrench Open in tennis. Nadal’s terrific French Open victory in 2013 was forgotten the moment he lost to Darcis in the first round at Wimbledon- and I’m pretty sure he didn’t allow himself much celebration after completing his tremendous comeback from injury at Roland Garros in May, because Wimbledon beckoned.
After the IPL in 2011, within less than a week (again), India flew off to the West Indies for a 5-ODI and 3-Test series. The Caribbean- the land where Indian Champions go to die. Though India won on that tour, it pretty much brought their fans back down to earth with a thud with their lack of energy demonstrated during the test series, and their average play in the ODI series against a weak West Indian attack.
And the Indian players, most of them atleast, hadn’t had any time off- 2 months after their World Cup joy, toiling it out in the Caribbean heat in a pointlessly-scheduled series that did nothing to reward them mentally. The cash awards and cars and houses gifted to the players cannot make up for the relentless schedule- with only top players like Tendulkar and Dhoni given a chance to pull out for ‘rest’. Dhawan and Vijay failed miserably in the series where new players were brought in, with only Rohit and Kohli showing some steel- with Raina leading the side. The bottom line was- they were spent. The highest point of their lives coincided with the alarming realization of their packed schedule- not even allowing it to sink in totally.
India’s 2013 Champions Trophy win will go down as one of their most dominant performances in a world tournament, and their biggest moment after the World Cup win in 2011- because they were underdogs, and because there were no clear favorites. They do a good job under Dhoni off slipping under the radar and shocking the world with a title when least favored, as they have often proven (T20 2007, CB Series, CT2013). They won on the soil that had begun their downward spiral back in 2011 in a test series against England- a phase that would last 2 years, until the tag ‘World Champions’ were snickered at.
This time, the same team wasn’t even allowed to come home and enjoy the celebration- the fruits of their success, much deserved, after months of failure and introspection. If anything, this win was more important in terms of perspective, with a young new team assuring Indian fans that the rebuilding phase well and truly existed- with tough losses coming on the way. This was as important as India’s 2007 T20 win, where they blind-sighted the world with an unknown bunch of players- and started the process towards the 2011 World Cup.
Back down to Earth
This team left 2 days after their win against England in the CT Final, for possibly the most boring and pointless tri-series of all time. And, as expected, the young players- high on their phenomenal success in England- are clueless about how to deal with the tag of favorites or invincibles. Less than a week after the final, they have now lost 2 consecutive games against teams that they destroyed in England- with the young team literally going through the motions, almost hoping to get home quickly and remind their fans that this series was forced upon them. After the dizzying heights of success, it is virtually impossible for most Indian sportsmen and athletes to deal with the immediate aftermath- which was never an issue with the great Australian and West Indian teams of yore, when they often continued where they left off from, steamrolling the world on the way to several titles in a row.
This dramatic practice of extremes- from high to low to high- is an Indian thing, with their governing body implementing the possibility of these polar performances just by setting inane schedules. Shipping the new Champions off to the Caribbean wasn’t the brightest of decisions, demonstrated by the shrugs and snoozes of Indian fans all over social media websites- refusing to accept this series as an official representation of how truly good their team is.
Now, as they fail to make yet another final of yet another tri-series, questions will be asked of the very same players that looked invincible a week ago- with the manner and margin of defeats pointing out to a switch-off mode. Balance will be restored, and Indian teams will never come back home and look unbeatable for more than a month at a time.
The common factor after 2011 and 2013 has been the absence of captain Dhoni- for different reasons- in both these Caribbean tournaments.