'I'm sure the sun will come up tomorrow morning. We'll learn from it, we'll reflect, and we'll move on'.
Just look through your window this morning and you realise that India’s head coach Rahul Dravid was dead right about this.
Dravid’s raw emotions post the heartbreak of the 2023 World Cup loss said a lot about how the side took the defeat at the hands of Australia in Ahmedabad.
It is something that will take a long time for everyone to get used to, because this was a journey that everyone lived through the squad vicariously. After a long time, you saw nondescript people discussing cricket, comparing notes and voicing opinions on a sport that Indians loved so dearly.
But while everyone got consumed by the growing optimism around the squad there was a small issue that everyone conveniently forgot. That was to do with the fact that it is going to be 10 years since India won an ICC senior white ball men’s title. In this time: Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Australia (twice), New Zealand and England (twice) have won world titles, while India has watched from the sidelines.
There must be something wrong about India on that big day when everything goes pear shaped.
If you just take the ODI World Cups for instance- since the start of the 2003 edition, India has an enviable record in the tournament.
India has played 51 games in ODI World Cups and lost just nine of them with one tied encounter. When you take a closer look at the record, you realise that this is the breakup of the nine losses:
2003 World Cup final
2015 World Cup semifinal
2019 World Cup semifinal
2023 World Cup final
There are the odd league/group game losses too in that list, but they have lost the matches that matter.
In many ways this World Cup was like the 2015 campaign when India won everything in the group stage and then the quarterfinal, only to lose in the semifinal to Australia.
The Indian record in World Cups becomes even more ominous when you look at the fact that in the last three World Cup tournaments, they have lost just four games in 28 encounters!
So where does the Indian ODI team, and more importantly, where does the white ball set-up falter which has resulted in an enviable league phase record, but an ordinary knockout record. This has become even more evident in the past decade where India has ended up being the bridesmaid but never the bride.
It is quite evident that the issue is the lack of depth in Indian white ball set-up. The meaning of depth here is the lack of dual purpose or all-round players. India in the ODI World Cup this time had two in Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja who balanced the squad brilliantly initially. Then when Pandya exited the tournament, it was down to Jadeja only.
This created major issues for the balance of the side with the batting ending with Jadeja and bowling only starting with him! Those above Jadeja did not bowl and those below did not bat. This lack of depth starts telling on a big pressure day like it did during the final on Sunday.
Australia had seven bowling options to fall back on and had a long batting line-up. India on the other hand had to take a conservative approach because of the lack of depth in batting and then while bowling the captain had no fall-back options other than the top five.
Now there will always be arguments about the fantastic run during the ongoing World Cup, but it was always evident to those who follow the sport closely that there was one disaster around the corner. Thus far during the league stage the team had managed to find that special hero every day, but on the day, it mattered there was none.
This lack of balance is going to affect India in both ODIs and T20Is in tournament cricket till they do not find more multi-purpose players in their set-up. You cannot hope to win tournament cricket with a one-dimensional squad.
Let us just look at Australia in the recent World Cup. They had three seam bowling all-rounders in Mitch Marsh, Cameron Green, and Marcus Stoinis. Then they had that freak in Glenn Maxwell who bowled his full complement of ten overs in most games. Maxwell at times came in to bat at number seven.
Australia missed Marsh for a game as he had to rush home, but they had Stoinis and Green to fill in at any time. Then in the reserves they had someone like Sean Abbott who could bowl with the new ball and bat lower down the order.
The biggest hero of them all, Travis Head who starred in the final, bowled a crucial spell in the semifinal against South Africa and picked two important wickets off two balls. Then in the final Head pulled off what was the biggest catch of his life as he sent Indian captain Rohit Sharma back to the pavilion.
Australia’s squad had only three specialist batters: David Warner, Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne. But all three have bowled at some time or the other in their careers. In fact, Smith and Labuschagne have turned their arms over as recently as this year.
India has lacked this kind of flexibility in their line-ups over the past decade and that has resulted in them playing timid cricket on the day that matters. It seems as if the think-tank is scared to invest in multi-purpose players for fear of being criticised.
You saw that with England since 2015 they invested in multi-purpose players across white ball formats. They got mocked for banking on them during the recent World Cup, but they are never going to move away from it.
In India it seems that the think-tank sometimes believes if they move away from the specialists they will fail. Well for 10 years the specialists have not delivered and now it is time to look beyond them.
Let us not make it a special event that nine of the XI bowled against the Netherlands in the final league match. Skipper Sharma lacked that additional option or someone with a golden arm beyond the five specialists on Sunday.
We in India have forgotten that India’s greatest ODI sides from 1983-1987 had depth in batting and bowling with several all-rounders in the mix. Then even the 2011 World Cup winning side had a lot of depth allowing skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni to mix and match.
India’s skippers since the 2013 Champions Trophy triumph have not had that flexibility in white ball cricket and that is the reason why the cupboard is bare.
So back to Dravid and the sun which indeed did come up at the appointed time. But it would indeed have been even more special knowing that India is on the top of the World.