Add to it the small factor that this was a completely new-look team, devoid of any heavy-weight names, considerably short on experience. For the first time since 1992, the Men in Blue took off to participate in an ICC event without Sachin Tendulkar.
The tournament started on June 6. On June 15, India beat Pakistan and finished unbeaten in their group. They were the first team to confirm a spot in the semi-finals after winning their first two matches against South Africa and West Indies. The batting has been dominant, the bowling hasn't looked as weak as it does on paper and the fielding has been par excellence. In less than two weeks, this team has turned the disappointment of IPL-6 around and given birth to new hope. They have played like champions that they are!
A semi-final spot was the cut-off for India when they set forth for England first. That would have been satisfactory given the aforementioned factors. But Dhoni's men are now favourites to win this tournament and by all means they should. It is because they are playing stupendous cricket at the moment, albeit aided in part by un-English conditions as also the messy state most other teams find themselves in.
At the time of writing, Australia are in a disciplinary meltdown. Pakistan have shot themselves in the foot. West Indies were shot down by D/L. South Africa will commit suicide sooner or later. England are under a ball-tampering cloud and they just cannot put 300 runs on the board. Sri Lanka and New Zealand are trying not to sink.
But this is about how the Indian team has transcended all of their own troubles and come out trumps. How they have managed to get the better of South Africa, pummel the Windies and shrugged Pakistan aside. How they have managed to extract an advantage from unfamiliar conditions. How they have brought in an unmatchable energy every time they have stepped on the field, an attitude that is bordering on arrogance. How they are looking like a team with a unified purpose and that is to win, period.
The foundation of this new face of team India was laid in the 2012-13 home season, especially when this bunch of cricketers was pushed to the wall. England came and trounced them at home. It was a special team to tour here and they played some fantastic cricket. Even so, the truths of transition had hit home. This ride was going to be tougher than anticipated and a change in approach was needed. Dhoni, under fire at the time, gambled and the new selectors backed him.
In ODIs the axe fell quickly. New bowlers came in. Non-performers were booted out. In Tests young batsmen were given chances and they took it with both hands. The skipper played to his team's strengths, and put in a buffer for their weakness by playing five bowlers against Australia. It was a time to lead from the front. It was a time to stamp his authority. Dhoni did so in that 4-0 win and is now doing it in England. It doesn't matter anymore that he stayed quiet in the pre-tournament press-conference when questioned about spot-fixing. He is talking to his players, backing them for now it is most needed, for that is most important.
It is best seen in the manner Ravindra Jadeja has come up. The all-rounder from Saurashtra has been the subject of much ridicule from all quarters. Truth be told, at first sight, it is impossible to ascertain what is special about him. It doesn't come out immediately because he seemingly appears to be trying too hard to fit in. He belongs to a classification of players who aren't overtly talented, just enough to be competing at this level, staying afloat by an inch or two.
Ten years ago, he wouldn't have been afforded many chances. It is the bane of such players. Their window for proving a success is too short, especially when the team has a set formula of seven batsmen and four bowlers. A certain Reetinder Sodhi was no different and hailed as a possible all-round option, he sank without a trace. Such players need ample time, to graft with the bat and chip away with the ball, to just prove their utility.
By fate or by chance, thanks to the transition, Jadeja has been given a long rope. However that alone is not enough. You need the desire to excel, to reflect the attitude that you belong here and those who think otherwise don't know what they are talking about. You need a natural variation in your bowling arsenal and you need luck that wins matches with a ball to spare when two runs are needed off one.
So the times have changed. The legends are gone while the definitions are being re-written. Dhoni with his calm bravado, Virat Kohli with his aggression, R Ashwin with his intelligence, the young pacers with their desire, Shikhar Dhawan with his attitude and even Rohit Sharma with his very long rope. And the summation of it all, Jadeja!
First Published: June 16, 2013, 11:07 AM IST