Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirchen, 1st July 2006.
A star-studded English line-up, consisting the likes of Gary Neville, Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Wayne Rooney, took the field against underdogs Portugal in the quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup.
This was, by far, The Three Lions’ best shot at winning the trophy which had eluded them since ‘66. But Sven-Goran Eriksson’s team imploded and not for the first time, England were knocked out of a tournament on penalties.
There were tears, boots were thrown, questions were raised on Eriksson’s tactics, but the fact remained – they cracked under pressure and were bundled out.
Today, however, we will focus on an altogether different sport, but one which is approached in a strikingly similar way in India as Football in England – Cricket.
The fateful evening of 18th June
“You are only as good as the last game you have played.”
The Indian players were down on knees, getting dominated by a bunch of passionate souls who had come into the Champions Trophy with absolutely no weights on their back – and it showed.
Soon after Hardik Pandya had given Mota Bhai Ravindra Jadeja a mouthful after ‘the’ run out, I saw a rather naive, but one which made me think, post on Facebook which questioned the Indian team’s performances in the finals of big tournaments.
While the knee jerk reaction is to demolish all these claims by talking about all the tough situation these cricketers cum Messiahs have bailed the team out of, that too in humongous matches and in high-pressure situations, if you try and look into things closely, you’ll find there is some weightage, only som, in these claims.
And some of our regulars will help us prove this point.
“Definitely he is got talent but aisa kuch nahin ki aake woh sabko uda hi deta hai (it's not that he rips apart all line-ups). He's just a normal bowler who was good on that day,” the right handed batsman had said after India’s Asia Cup victory over Pakistan last year, where Amir had got the better of him.
Little did Rohit know that this was just the first of many ‘Mohd. Amir to Rohit Sahrma, OUT..’ moments to come. And the biggest of them all came in the final, the fateful evening of 18th June. First over of the second innings, a couple of outswingers followed by an unplayable in-swinger, plumb, gone.
Anyway, back to the ‘final syndrome’.
The 30-year-old explosive opener has featured for the country in 12 tournament finals in 10 years. His returns? 268 runs at an average of 24.36. Respectfully, these are sub-par numbers for a batsman who is believed to be the most talented of the lot.
The God of chases. The guy can never put a foot wrong in the most testing of situations. The ‘Sachin Tendulkar’ of this generat.... Wait! The master blaster played in a total of 40 tournament finals for the country, amassed 1851 runs at an average of 54.44. Whereas Kohli, 10 finals, 272 runs at 34.
Just for the sake of comparison, the Indian skipper scores runs at an average of 54.14 in ODIs and 53.40 in T20s.
This was not the first time the Delhite walked in when Amir was wreaking havoc. Asia Cup 2016 is still fresh in all of our minds. Kohli, then, had weathered the bombardment and taken India to the target, of 84 runs! But big match, huge score on the board and the outcome? Getting out almost twice in two deliveries to Amir.
What happened to relishing pressure situations? God knows.
The ‘rough patch’ bullies
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have seen their shares plummet heavily in the past month. They were the apple of every Indian cricket fan’s eyes. Jadeja, along with Ashwin, was part of the duopoly which dominated the test season.
The left-armer finished the season on top of ICC Test bowlers’ rankings and the off-spinner was behind him, on the second spot. The latter was even named the CEAT International Cricketer of the year and gave the IPL a miss to keep himself fresh for the CT.
Anyway, after bulldozing through every team but one, when India reached the big final, there were calls from various rungs of the cricketing fraternity to drop a spinner in favour of Umesh Yadav. Those cries fell on deaf ears and India went in with the same squad.
The thought process behind the decision is completely justified. But the output, not so much. After the end of Pakistan’s innings, Jadeja’s numbers read 8-0-67-0 and Ashwin’s 10-0-70-0.
Yes, I agree that one final is too small a scale to measure such world class players.
Overall, the left-armer has featured in seven tournament finals and has picked 10 wickets. Respectable returns, yes, but only if we ignore the fact that four of those wickets came in a tri-nation final in West Indies, back in 2013, against Sri Lanka. So, six wickets in the other six finals, with none in the last two, and add that damned run-out as well.
Didn’t the picture get clear?
Ashwin, on the other hand, has featured in five finals and bagged six wickets but only one in the last two. And like you added ‘that damned run-out’ to Jadeja’s list of vices, add the ten overs of Harbhajan-esque negative bowling to Ashwin’s and wonder whether that naive post about India cracking under pressure in the finals made any sense or not.
PS – MS Dhoni has played 17 tournament finals and has scored 527 runs at 43.91.