World Cup dreams in tatters: Pitch is villain

By Dr Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*

Cricket is a time killer, and it has many detrimental impacts on productivity too. But it is popular because it is a glorious game of uncertainty. It has linkage with uncertainty and vicissitude, hope/aspirations and frustration of life. When life is uncertain, the man who wins, the man who thinks he can. Australia cricket team proved this again.

As a gruelling night wore on, the Men in Blue found their World Cup dreams in tatters. India’s dream run in the World Cup concluded in despair and despondency. India has to rest content with the World Cups won in 1983 and 2011. In the tournament, India won 10 games on the trot. India dominated and defeated strong team New Zealand in the semifinal. Rohit’s men had stepped in as the favourites to wrest the title. But Australia had other ideas. Australia trounced host India in the final on November 19, 2023 to win the 6th World Cup at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

This was the first time India hosted the tournament entirely by itself. Australia lost their opening two games at the start of World Cup 2023 and then won seven in a row to enter the semifinals. In the semifinal they beat South Africa to face India in final.

The six-wicket triumph reiterated Australia’s prowess and adroitness especially temperament of its players to win in big matches. Australia has won more world cups because Australian cricketer are big match players and do not succumb to pressure. They easily adapt to different conditions better than others. Adaptability is the greatest quality of any individual or team.

On a slow pitch, India mustered 240 in 50 overs. For India as captain Rohit Sharma hit a brisk 47 and Virat Kohli and K.L. Rahul scored half-centuries. However, the other batters struggled as the Australians bowled tight lines, fielded with alacrity and kept prising out wickets.

Despite causing some initial bruises on the Aussies, found Pat Cummins and his men cantering home with 241 for four in 43 overs.

Opener Travis Head’s excellent 137 (120b, 15×4, 4×6) proved to be the cornerstone of Australia’s success after David Warner, Mitchell Marsh, and Steve Smith fell early. It was the game’s tipping point but left-handed Head and Marnus Labuschagne stitched a fabulous 192-run partnership for the fourth wicket to ensure Australia stayed ahead.

Australians chose bowling instead of batting first because of the following reasons. First, they were beaten by India while batting first in league phase. Second, India had beaten Pakistan while batting second in that pitch. Third, it is difficult to assess what is a defendable score in this match. Fourth, by trying for big target, India may lose more wickets and ends in scoring less runs. Fifth, in the final of the world cup, India had beaten Sri Lanka by batting second; Sixth, if dew plays it’s role, then spinners will be ineffective and will be easy to chase targets.

Further Australians had done homework and studied our weak points while we have become complacent. Our bowling weakness was exposed against New Zealand and Netherland, but no effort was taken to overcome. Sometimes, we are carried away by success without addressing weakness. We know that Travis Head had batted well against India in test matches in the past and well against spin attacks of South Africa. We did not make any plan against Travis Head.

The coach should have studied the weakness of opponents. However, mainly different behaviour of pitch proved a curse for India. The great lesson is that when you are successful or archiving success, do not ignore weakness. Exactly, the same had happened in the world cup final between Pakistan and Australia in England in past. Pakistan had beaten Australia in the league phase, but in the final , Pakistan opted batting first and got out in a paltry score due to moisture in pitch.

We did not use a left-handed batsman who could have disturbed bowlers. Ashwin might have been a better option ahead of Kuldeep Yadav against left handed batsmen like Travis Head. Inclusion of Surya Kumar Yadav was a sheer wastage as he did not have much contribution nor deserve sixth position on batting line. Of course, he is a great 20-20 player.

The Indian team got panicked easily. They do not have a habit of winning closely contested matches like the Australia team. Rohit Sharma should have used Mohammed Siraj before introducing spinners. He is the number one one day bowler in ICC ranking. If you do not have faith in him, why did you allow him to play? Youngsters like Shubman Gill, Sreyas Iyer must have learnt about the difference between IPL and such big tournaments. They should try to become big match players like that of Australians. I don’t blame Rohit Sharma for getting out for playing a risky shot. But this was the way, he had dominated bowling of opponents.

However, the success has many fathers, but failure is orphan. Many people have  started blaming Indian players. But actually the pitch proved a villain. After winning 10 matches consecutively India lost because of pitch. India was playing well in sportive pitch and scoring well. But we have a habit of curbing transparency and tampering pitch.
 The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is fully responsible for India’s defeat. Why did it prepare a slow wicket that proved the devil in the first innings but eased out in the second innings under light by making our bowlers ineffective and helping  batters of Australia.
If a sportive or batting wicket would have been prepared like many other matches, India would have scored 350 plus easily. Australia could have lost while chasing. If the pitch was tampered with, then a turning track should have been prepared where Australia could have struggled. At least, India could have prepared a pitch like that one on which Australia and South Africa semifinal match was played. In that pitch, there were vicious turns in second innings.
At Ahmedabad in the second innings, when Australia was batting, after 10 overs, there was no turn, no swings. India captured 3 wickets quickly but then after the struggle as pitch supported batsmen fully. Why did we prepare a pitch to the detriment of our strength. However, the fielding of the Australian team was superb and magnificent.
I think Indians played good cricket. The team was imbalanced due to the injury of Hardik Pandya. We could not get his proper replacement. Six Indian players  being selected in ICC team shows that Indians have performed well. They had beaten the Australia team by 2-1 margin just before this World Cup tournament.
The big consolation for India is that Virat Kohli was awarded the man of the tournament for scoring the highest runs of 765 with a batting average of 95.62 and having the highest number of fours (i.e., 68). Rohit Sharma has hit the maximum number of sixes (i.e., 31) and had a terrific World Cup with the bat, scoring 597 runs – the second-most after teammate Virat Kohli – in 11 matches at a dominating strike rate of 125. Mohammed Shami has taken 24 wickets, highest by any bowler. He is also quickest to achieve 50 wickets in World Cup.


However, apart from Travis Head, Glen Maxwel (Australia), Daryl Mitchell and R Ravindra (New Zealand), Quinton de Kock and Gerald Coetzee (South Africa), Dilshan Madushanka (Sri Lanka), Adam Zampa (Australia) have impressed a lot.

Kohli broke the record of Tendulkar in terms of centuries, but the comparison is odious as they belong to different periods. Pitches are different and bowlers are different too. There was a time when scoring century in one day match was a dream, but now double century is scored in one day, even century is scored in 20-20 matches. In past, team was able to defend 250 easily.
Our Cricket Control Board is worried for earning money and least concerned for victory of team. Corporate behemoths are busy in popularising their products through advertisement. Celebrities and rich people are busy in enjoying life by watching games. Politicians especially those of ruling dispensation at the Centre are busy in diverting attention of people from problems like poverty, hunger, inequality, inflation, and unemployment through cricket.
Cricket like other games is meant to be enjoyed. Of course, the games are played to enjoy and enhance good relationships, but unnecessary tensions and emotions were created like in the past during cricket matches. Cricket is a game like others. People should enjoy it instead of getting affected unnecessarily by tension and anxiety.
But media was  busy for TRP. Actually, the media did a great disservice by arousing emotions on cricket. The media was showing news in such a way that all our personal problems, national problems like poverty, hunger, unemployment and inequality will be solved through Cricket. Actually, the media put unnecessary pressure on players. Such things happen in the subcontinent only.
 Even superstition was encouraged.
Some astrologers went on predicting India’s victory. People were made fatalists, instead of inspiring them to become hard working, sincere and committed.
Just confine the cricket to a game and enjoy. Do not make people serious or emotional. The nation cannot be swayed by the cricket issue only. Other games should not be given step motherly attitudes. Since, cricketers are earning huge money, they have got moral responsibility to contribute for upliftment of other games.



The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represents the views of Sambad English.
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