June 24, 2013, was the last time a senior Indian team held an ICC trophy. The MS Dhoni-led side had then beaten England in a rain-effected 20-over contest. Since then, India have been knocked out of the semi-finals of four ICC tournaments and have been runners-up in two, including the inaugural World Test Championship. Across formats, India have had a good run in these past seven years. Out of the 347 matches they have played during this period, they have been able to maintain a win-loss ratio of 2.028, winning 213 matches and losing less than half of that - 105. Five games have ended in a tie while 15 drawn and nine ended in no-result.
Yet, the trophy cabinet is bare in multi-team events. After 2013, Dhoni led India in the 2014 T20 World Cup, 2015 World Cup, 2016 T20 World Cup, while Kohli was in charge of the 2017 Champions Trophy, 2019 World Cup and the WTC. And for most of these tournaments, India had the top billing. India motored along during the 2014 campaign and remained undefeated till the final. Sri Lanka though trumped India in the summit clash. Despite Kohli’s magnificent 77 off 58, the talk was about Yuvraj Singh’s slow 11 off 21, that dented India in setting a good total on a sluggish Dhaka track.
In 2015, India breezed through the league stages with Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan in beast mode. But the underlying problems in the bowling department came to the fore in the semi-finals where eventual winners Australia proved just too good for the Indian team. Again India looked rock-solid in the group stages and was undefeated till the semi-final. 2016 was one of those rear tournaments where India were not considered prime contenders, but despite a shocking defeat at the hands of New Zealand in the tournament opener at Nagpur, India scrapped their way to the final riding largely on Kohli’s imperious form. He averaged a whopping 136 in the tournament. In the semis, Kohli seemingly set the stage for an Indian win with a scintillating 89 off 47, only to be bested by Lendl Simmons’ (82* off 51) high quality hitting. West Indies went on to win beating England in the game that gave birth to the legends of Carlos Brathwaite and Ben Stokes.
2017 was changing of guards with Kohli at the helm. the Champions Trophy was not even supposed to have taken place at that time and it was only due to India’s previous win in 2013, that the mini World Cup presented as a lucrative opportunity for the ICC. And they hit the jackpot when India faced off against Pakistan. India did have a solid tournament despite a loss to Sri Lanka in a high-scoring fixture. Pakistan had relied on their pacers to do the job and they had come through. Come the final and first it was Fakhar Zaman and then Mohammad Amir. India’s bowling crumbled, batsmen succumbed to pressure and Pakistan had a memorable win. Again, at the crucial juncture, the team that looked near untouchable suddenly felt mortal.
The 2019 World Cup followed the same pattern and not just because India were hyped up as one of the favourites, but largely they had the bases covered; that was until the injury to Shikhar Dhawan. One could always argue over the non-selection of Iyer and Pant initially, but the way India went out about the campaign was proof enough that they were the team to beat. It was only against the two finalists did India lose - to England in the league stages, and to New Zealand in the semi-finals. Another rain-affected match, that went to reserve day, India did their best with the ball, but never really showed with the bat - again, when it mattered the most India faltered.
And this is not something you would put the blame on the captain or the coach or anyone collectively; it’s upon the individual only. Ever since his debut, Jasprit Bumrah had a dream run in international cricket, until that fateful no-ball handing reprieve to Zaman in 2017, and the rest is history. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and one would find many such moments from the past games where things could have turned out differently. Karthik at No.3 in 2019 and that Jimmy Neesham catch, who do you blame, who can you blame? However, the worrying sign is when you start to see the pattern. Small decisions that tilt the favour ever so slightly.
In the WTC final, India went in with two spinners and New Zealand with none at all. Was there a strategy in place and did NZ trump India with the selection? Kohli would want us to believe otherwise. This was the best possible combination that has performed in all conditions, he had said. Fair point by Kohli. Then again, NZ had swing bowlers in Trent Boult and Tim Southee, who exploited the conditions well. For India Mohammad Shami was terrific. Ishant ran in a gave his all, but Bumrah was off-colour. Not that you would put the blame squarely on him. But, with one bowler off colour and one spinner not used to that great an effect, India effectively reduced themselves to a three-man attack, as opposed to New Zealand’s all-out five-prong pace attack. Going by the recent form, Mohammad Siraj should have made it to the XI, but he did not.
Kohli said India lost the game on Day 5 morning when Kiwi bowlers kept going relentlessly at Kohli and Pujara. Both got out early that day and India were suddenly on the back foot. Ajinkya Rahane’s two dismissals were an eyesore and quite unlike him. He too, much like Pujara, failed to put his hand up, when the situation demanded some tough resistance. This team is still very very good, and one has to credit the way New Zealand went about their business like the champion team they have been over the past couple of years.
Kohli’s India too is a champion team, but they, and by extension Kohli too, have not been able to land the final knockout punch. Two finals, four semi-finals and Virat Kohli-led India’s ICC title drought Continues.