It’s like we’ve rewound to 2013, and wouldn’t that be nice. MS Dhoni, then the captain, R Ashwin, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravindra Jadeja, Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Rohit Sharma and Umesh Yadav are headed to England (and Wales) for the Champions Trophy 2017, like four years ago.
Then, the Champions Trophy started on June 6, 11 days after the end of the Indian Premier League 2013. This time, it starts on June 1, exactly 11 days after the final of the latest edition of the tournament in Hyderabad. Then in Edgbaston, India went on to win the tournament. What about now?
I am no gazer of crystal balls or reader of tea leaves. If India win, great. If not, a more deserving team would have won.
But trawling social media, I do get a sense of no-hope among the Indian fans of the game. I don’t see much by way of criticism of the selectors. Yes, there are a few going Give Pant a Chance, but that’s to be expected. I am on the side of the Rishabh Pant backers, I think he has done enough to at least be flown to the UK, at least as a spare option. He is exciting enough to be thrown in. But the selectors decide when to blood him, and they must have their reasons. A time to plant, a time to reap, and all that. His time will come, everything remaining constant.
No, I think the sense of no-hope comes from other things: 1. A less-than exhilarating season of the IPL. 2. The underwhelming performance of many top Indian players. And 3. Virat Kohli – his own iffy form, and the poor performance of the team he led, Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Let’s then come to the Indian squad for the Champions Trophy first. Without getting too into ERs and SRs and the like, here’s some generic data:
2013: Five members of the team that travelled to the Mini World Cup featured in the top-ten list of run-getters at the IPL preceding it – Kohli, Suresh Raina, Rohit, Dinesh Karthik and Dhoni. Among the bowlers, there were two in the top ten – R Vinay Kumar and Amit Mishra, neither of whom are in the mix this time.
IPL 2017 (before the playoffs): Two members of the touring party – Dhawan and Manish Pandey – are in that top-ten list, while two bowlers, Bhuvneshwar and Jasprit Bumrah, bookend the corresponding table for bowlers.
Let’s combine this with 1, 2 and 3 now.
The squad this time reads: Kohli, Ashwin, Bumrah, Dhawan, Dhoni, Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, Bhuvneshwar, Mohammed Shami, Pandey, Hardik Pandya, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit, Umesh and Yuvraj Singh.
Ashwin didn’t play the IPL. Shami just about did. Jadeja joined late but then got his time. The rest of the players got as many chances as they deserved.
On the whole, if we were to have a scale, I would put down their IPL showings (up to the playoffs and keeping Ashwin out) like this – with a tip of the hat to Ms Rowling, who knows how to do these things:
[The Rowling System has Acceptable, Exceeds Expectations and Outstanding as the pass grades, and Poor, Dreadful and Troll as the fail grades.]
Having come into the IPL after scoring 46 runs in five innings in the Test series against Australia and then injuring his shoulder, which kept him out of action, this was decent without being special. The man had scored 973 runs in IPL 2016. Those heights are tough to scale again, but Kohli did all right, with four half-centuries and a strike rate of 122.22. Not quite Kohli, but not as bad as RCB. And he is Kohli, the big-match player, isn’t he?
He wasn’t always been among the wickets, but has chipped away for 15 of them. His economy rate of 7.66 is more than respectable, and that Super Over against Gujarat Lions was the stuff of dreams. He looks fine, doing what you want him to.
Acceptable ⟹ Exceeds Expectations
He had scored well in the domestic 50-over competitions but must have been low on confidence after a not-too-successful run with the Indian team in recent times. At the IPL, he has scored 468 runs from 13 innings at a strike rate of 128.92. All those runs, especially if you consider that he has been overshadowed by David Warner, means he has done extremely well.
Poor ⟹ Acceptable
No, much as I think the world of the man, and the exact opposite of the Rising Pune Supergiant owners for demoting him from the leadership, Dhoni just hasn’t been himself this IPL. Behind the stumps, yes, no problem, but in front, he has been well off his best. The time he won Pune a match almost single-handedly against Sunrisers Hyderabad with a 61 not out blast, that was him. But a strike rate of 113.74 for 240 runs from 13 games, not Dhoni.
Poor ⟹ Acceptable
Not quite there with the bat, and not quite there with the ball. Two parts of the Jadeja all-round story adds up to little at the IPL, but his fielding, and throwing, has been outstanding, and that gives him a bit of an extra point.
Held his own in an otherwise poor Bangalore performance in the IPL. Not in a remarkable way or anything, but he has scored his 267 runs at a strike rate of 143.54, and that’s decent enough.
He has 25 wickets from 13 innings, including a five-wicket haul, with an economy rate of 6.97. Enough said.
Now, this man has gone for runs, and he hasn’t picked up wickets as often as he would have liked to, but he was coming back from yet another long layoff. He’s held up so far, which is good enough, one has to say.
He has scored 396 runs from 13 innings with a strike rate of 128.57 in a team where the men before him routinely take away most overs and most of the runs. Pandey has been exceptional.
You don’t expect him to win matches with the bat or with the ball, but you expect him to make enough of a contribution with both. Pandya has done that every other day for Mumbai Indians this IPL. Still far from being the finished product, or a finisher of games, but he has done his job.
Dreadful ⟹ Poor
Not enough runs. Not a good enough strike-rate. Not, possibly, enough confidence. On the face of it, not good enough right now. But he is, isn’t he? And when in England, you would be hard-pressed to find a better back-up option.
Acceptable ⟹ Exceeds Expectations
Much of those points are because of his captaincy, but he has been fine on the whole, too, contributing when Mumbai have needed him to, with 282 runs from 13 innings at a strike rate of 125.33. And he was coming off a long, long layoff. So decent, if not special portents.
He has had his share of big splashes. He has been expensive too. Exactly the Umesh you have come to expect and admire. Good enough then.
Poor ⟹ Acceptable
Too blow-hot-and-blow-cold for my liking, but seems to be at peace with himself and more aware than ever before about what he wants to and can do. At his best, he has been brutal, but it hasn’t been often enough.
What do you make of the situation then? Here, by my estimation, we have nine passes – with Bhuvneshwar clearly top boy – two fails, three just about scraping through, and one missing the test.
Considering the performances and preparation at the IPL, does the team look ready for an #encoreinengland? Not if the IPL were the ultimate gauge. Fortunately, it’s not.
It is a gauge, though, for whatever it’s worth, simply because it’s the only major cricket the players have got before the Champions Trophy.
Thankfully, 50-over cricket is a whole other game. So who knows? Still, most of the 15 men catching the flight would have liked to do better in the familiar environs of the IPL. For the confidence ahead of the Champions Trophy, if nothing else.