Despite all the talent, the CWC 2023 Finals against Australia reveals just how much the weight of the occasion comes down quite heavy on the Indian men's team.
It goes without saying that a majority of India, at the moment, is extremely gutted. Having taken the field on Sunday, November 19th, as the favourites to win the men's Cricket World Cup 2023, Team India looked well on course to ward off those 'ICC knockout' horrors of the past and usher in a new era of fearlessness and conviction.
However, the reality seemed quite different when things got rolling and the nerves, much like during the defence in the semis against New Zealand, were apparent. Drop catches/missed chances, unforced extras and the just absence of that zest in crunch situations were visible in both games, except that mammoth total of 397 against Kane Williamson's side in the penultimate game allowed India the buffer to make those errors.
Rohit Sharma & Co., as it seemed, were shockingly out of sorts for a vast majority of the game and were playing catch up almost all throughout. India's control over the game seemed to span not more than 20 overs collectively, including the 9.4 overs that saw skipper Sharma at his trademark best and the 8-10 overs of hope that Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami caused in the second innings. Aside from that, Team India did not seem to be in the contest against their arch-nemesis.
What's more disheartening, though, is the fact that this isn't the first instance of a 'no-show' by the men in Blue. Over the last few occasions and a few more scattered across the past couple of decades, the Indian men's team has failed to put on a compelling, competitive performance on the biggest of stages - the ICC knockouts or finales. It is alarmingly evident that the weight of the occasion comes down quite heavy on the otherwise resilient, hungry and hugely talented team, and that their collective spirit is deflated as soon as the opposition shows any sign of authority.
Occasion: India vs Australia at The Oval
Result: Australia win by 209 runs
What happened: Having won the toss, India chose to field first and even looked to make the best of that decision. Australia were in a spot of bother at 76 for 3 in the first innings until Steve Smith and Travis Head (yes, the same guy) put on a whopping 284-run partnership.
The Aussies would score 469 in their first innings and India responded with an underwhelming 296 (Ajinkya Rahane scored an impressive 89) and the third innings saw Pat Cummins & team declare at 270 for 8. Needing 444 in their chase, India were bundled out for a measly 234 with Nathan Lyon taking four wickets.
Occasion: India vs England at the Adelaide Oval
Result: England win by 10 wickets
What happened: Another landmark game that Team India and its massive legion of fans would want to forget. Put into bat by Jos Buttler, the Indian batters somehow scraped through to a score of 168 for 6 with both Virat Kohli and Hardik Pandya scoring fifties but that total would hardly seem enough for a place in the final. Buttler and his opening partner Alex Hales launched an attack so relentless that India had no time to comprehend what was happening around them and before they knew it, England had won the game by 10 wickets! Still hurts.
Occasion: India vs New Zealand at Southampton
Result: New Zealand win by 8 wickets
What happened: Virat Kohli lost the toss to Kane Williamson who chose to field first on a quintessential English wicket offering swing with the new ball. Team India did not look comfortable as the match got underway and managed only 217 in the first innings but were able to restrict the Kiwis to 249, allowing them only a 32-run lead. However, Kohli and co. would fare worse in the second innings and succumb at 170 in their pursuit of winning the first-ever World Test Championship. Needing only 139 to win the title, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor exhibited great skill as they took their team over the line.
Occasion: India vs New Zealand at Manchester
Result: New Zealand win by 18 runs
What happened: It's New Zealand and an ICC knockout game yet again and while the final result of this contest might not seem like India were completely overpowered, those '45 minutes of bad cricket' do fall in the category we are here to discuss. The semi-final game was rain-struck and played over two days and for a good part of it, India seemed like they were in firm control. Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor (once again!) pulled their team out of trouble to score 239 for 8 in their first innings.
The response, though, began on a disastrous note for Team India which was stranded 5 for 3 and 6 for 92 at two different points of the chase, before Ravindra Jadeja and MS Dhoni retaliated. Their efforts, however, came in vain as India were bowled out for 221 to bow out of yet another semi-final.
Occasion: India vs Pakistan at The Oval
Result: Pakistan win by 180 runs
What happened: Another game where India lost the game on both tactical and psychological fronts. Tactical because Virat Kohli chose to field on a bright & sunny English morning and to make things worse, his bowlers failed to step up to the occasion. Jasprit Bumrah would get Fakhar Zaman out but on a no-ball which meant that the Pakistani batsmen would go on to score a hundred! The men in Green would score 338 in their fifty overs and Team India, needless to say, was deflated almost fully by that point. The spark had vanished and when Mohammad Amir got a sense of that, he simply ripped through them with some incredible pace bowling. Both Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma struggled against him and India were bowled out for 158.
Occasion: India vs Australia at Sydney
Result: Australia win by 95 runs
What happened: The pressure of the big situation played on the minds of Indian players once again as they looked unthreatening with both the bat and the ball. Despite being the favourites, Australia took the game away from them with a first-innings total of 328 (Steve Smith's superb hundred) and both Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma failed to deliver on the big stage. India could only manage 233 in response to cause another major upset for the fans.