Indian cricket entered its golden era in the shorter formats of the game in 2007. The interesting part is that it has not ended and is still ongoing. Every year Team India gives the Indian fans something major to cheer about.
In 2007, we won the T20 World Cup. In 2008, we scored our first bilateral/triangular victory on Australian soil when we blanked the hosts 2-0 in the final. In 2009, we won our only ODI series in New Zealand.
In 2010, we recaptured the Asia Cup after 15 years. In 2011 we became the first host team to win the ODI World Cup. In 2012 we scored our fifth ODI series/tournament in six tours on Sri Lankan soil (this is significant because we had won just 2/13 from 1985-2007).
In 2013 we won our first ICC Champions Trophy outright. In January 2014 we ended a one-year reign as ICC ODI No. 1 team, our most consistent rankings. We beat England 3-1 on their turf and whitewashed Sri Lanka 5-0 after that.
And yet most of the Indian fans had very little faith that India had any chance of winning the 2015 World Cup because of a bad Australian tour. The bookies usually get it right and many were giving Australia-India top odds.
In fact before captain MS Dhoni took over our best ranking was No. 3. Entering into this tournament, we were still No. 2 hot on Australia’s heels for the rankings, but our chances were rubbished by most.
It is very rare that defending champions with a solid No. 2 rankings have been dismissed such.
One reporter even asked former South African captain Graeme Smith if this was the weakest Indian team that the Proteas faced! It doesn’t get more bizarre than this.
How a defending champions No. 2 team which has the best finishers in the world (Dhoni and Virat Kohli), the only man with two ODI double centuries (Rohit Sharma), two of the best ODI spinner all-rounders today ( Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin) and a pace attack which can consistently cross 140 (not that common for India at least) can be considered the “weakest team” by any stretch of imagination defies logic.
To boost things further, in the crucial match against Pakistan, Shikhar Dhawan came good with a fine 73 and Suresh Raina hit a blistering 74 off 56 (add to the fact that he hit a 100 off 74 balls on England soil and nobody will call him a poor traveller anymore).
In the same match the pace attack also cam good with the three bowlers picking up 8 wickets. In the backdrop of this our crushing 130 run victory against South Africa should come as a pleasant surprise and not an unexpected shock as it is made out to be. It is not just the margin of victory but the fact that we thoroughly outplayed South Africa in all the departments of the game (batting, bowling and fielding).
With Dhawan hitting a blistering 134 and Dhoni being a big-match player we clearly have the best batting line-up in the tournament and our so called weak bowling attack blew away the strongest teams in the group for 224 and 177.
Team director Ravi Shastri had every reason to be livid. After the crushing victory he said that those asking for Dhawan to be dropped for the World Cup didn’t even understand cricket. He could well tell the Indian fan, “I find your lack of faith disturbing!”
The Indian team has had the ability to compartmentalize for decades now. What this means that even if it gets crushed in a Test series, it has the ability to recover and crush the same team in the ODI series.
In fact this happened quite recently.
In England we lost the Test series 1-3 but won the ODI one 3-1. A bad Australian tour doesn’t diminish the abilities of Team India. As they say, form is temporary and class is permanent.
A lot of people are talking as if India has “suddenly” become a favourite after the win against South Africa. That is not so. We were favourites even before the tournament started.
Nothing happens suddenly. Great teams are built and rebuilt over a period of years and years. This great team was built by Sourav Ganguly and John Wright in 2000 and taken to greater heights by Dhoni and then Gary Kirsten from 2007 onwards.
Meanwhile Indian fan, have some faith!
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/