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World Cup: How India's performance in the finals have knocked out captains

Apart from Azharuddin and MS Dhoni , Indian captains have an unflattering record in final games. The 2023 World Cup loss to Australia only reaffirmed this anomaly

NEW DELHI: India let go of a golden chance to win the ODI World Cup on Sunday, losing the final to Australia by six wickets in Ahmedabad.

The two teams contesting for the big prize present a study in contrast. While for India, it was yet another lost opportunity despite all indicators pointing towards them as being the favourites, Australia once again demonstrated their legendary ability of rising to the occasion and playing their best cricket when it’s most needed.

The better team won on Sunday and that should be comforting to those who were rooting for India and now wallow in despair. But India, at least on paper, had the class and talent to be champions. The formbook too was stacked heavily in their favour. Expectation was sky high and hence the feeling of getting let down is equally deep.

A look at history, however, tells us that India have underperformed in finals including ODI ones in the last three decades or so. This despite having superstars in the team and the backing of the allpowerful and ultra-rich BCCI. India have often gone into a final as favourites only to come second best.

In this period, Mohd Azharuddin and MS Dhoni are the only two Indian captains with a creditable record. Azhar, an easy-going and affable captain whose reputation was deeply harmed by allegations of match-fixing, won 11 finals as skipper out of 19. The success rate nosedived during Sourav Ganguly ’s tenure with a dismal sequence of 13 losses in 14 finals with the saving grace being the famous triumph in the 2002 Natwest final.

It was Dhoni who resurrected the fortunes of the team with his clam and astute captaincy and superbly calibrated batting in white-ball cricket generally and ODIs specifically. Dhoni remains the benchmark for Indian captains as far as winning big trophies are concerned. He still is the only captain in cricket to have won all three ICC world titles – ODI World Cup, Champions Trophy and T20 World Cup.

The fear of losing heavily impairs a team or sportsperson; more so in crunch situations. Champion teams and individuals find a way to conquer this emotion and perform at their best on the big stage. Past failures linger on in the mind. Sometimes, failures of a past generation can also cause a hangover. This Indian side had done more than enough to make one believe it was not only up for a scrap, it had the chutzpah besides high skill, to go all the way. The way Rohit and his bunch steamrolled all opposition was spectacular and awe-inspiring. In fact, it left one with a foreboding… probably it was too good to be true.

That brave and riveting approach gave way to a more conservative and diffident style in the final once Rohit was dis - missed. The fear of failure started creeping in, almost stopping the Men in Blue in their tracks. KL Rahul’s innings – 66 off 107 balls with one four -- typified it the most. The effervescence one cheered for with such pride and joy through the tournament went missing. Jadeja, Surya, the tail… there were no authentic strokes, or even long-handle slogs.

A 239 on the Ahmedabad wicket against a ruthless side like Australia was always too few. India had a chance to sneak into the contest when the Aussies lost their third wicket at 47. But the wicket eased out and there was little threat from the bowling. The field placing became defensive as Rohit looked to stop the flow of runs. It was to no avail as the only way India could have won this was by bowling the opponents out. There were no slips when the spinners operated and it seemed that India were hoping that things would happen for them rather than trying to make it happen.

Of course, credit goes to Australia for outthinking and outplaying India. You give them an opening and they will ransack the chest and run away with the booty.

Unfortunately, in the final, India could not play the game which had so enthralled the cricket world. It looked as if the wariness which one identified with many past India sides when they lined up for a finale had come back to haunt them.