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By Suresh Menon
As I write this, there is no guarantee that India will make it to the final of the Tri-Nation tournament in the West Indies, leave alone win it. And, frankly, it does not matter. It is important to acknowledge this. It does not matter if India do not make the grade. Another meaningless one-day tournament, that is what is being played in the West Indies now, without any particular relevance or context.
The former badminton great Rudy Hartono was fond of saying that for a champion, there is no home ground. In recent years, every ground has been, in a sense, India’s home ground if you went by the number of fans supporting them. But this is not about doing well or badly outside the country. The Tri-Nation replaced a Test series that was to be played between West Indies and Sri Lanka, and it was charitable of the Indian board to field a full team there.
As the tournament has progressed, the Indian team has begun to look more like the one which won the Champions Trophy in England. Yet, after the high of that win, West Indies must have come like an anti-climax. True, there is a school of thought which believes that top teams (and India are the No. 1 team in the world) must win everywhere – but it is difficult to summon up the motivation and intensity for a tournament that will be forgotten the day after the final. Sadly, India have taken part in a few of these over the years, winning some, losing others, but making little difference in either case.
That is why it would be foolish to react to an Indian non-victory with the same fervour with which the Champions Trophy success was celebrated. A loss in Trinidad will not suddenly make Shikhar Dhawan less of a batsman or Bhuwaneshwar Kumar less of a bowler. In a larger sense, India are in a no-win situation. As the favourites going into the tournament they are expected to win it, and if they do, that would be merely doing the expected. If they lose, however, questions will be asked, and the energy that won them the Champions Trophy will be called into question. Yet this does not take into consideration the drop in intensity that often follows a big success.
Skipper Dhoni’s injury (always a danger in any tournament, although in a pointless one it makes no sense at all) has given us a chance to see young Virat Kohli the skipper. Was he nervous in his first game in charge or did he overplay his hand? No matter. By the second game, he looked the part, which is good news for Indian cricket. The selectors must be commended for getting it right. Since Kohli is a future captain, it makes sense to blood him early and give him the safety net of time and place, allowing him the opportunity to fail without the excessive pressure to succeed.
Most Indian vice captains have tended to make their captains feel nervous, but Dhoni is too well established and too secure to act in the traditional Indian manner. And that is another advantage Kohli had – he did not have to constantly look over his shoulder in the manner of some of his predecessors.
With the World Cup two years away, there might be call for playing in as many one-day tournaments as possible in the lead-up to it. After the Champions Trophy, the contours of the team that will represent India there are already clear. There has to be a balance between too much practice and too little – after West Indies, India take on Zimbabwe.
The trick is to retain a sense of perspective.