Friday, June 21, 2024

T20 World Cup 2024: India focus on controllables with businesslike nets session ahead of Ireland opener

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As Sri Lanka crumbled against South Africa in New Jersey, India, who will play their T20 World Cup opener at the same venue, went about the nets in preparation
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While
Sri Lanka were crumbling
in the first ever international fixture at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium against South Africa on Monday, India were quietly getting their discipline in place at the Cantiague Park, not too far away. Over the last week or so, this is where they have initiated their
preparations for the T20 World Cup
; they have had to contend with a variety of dodgy pitches but typically, they have gone about their business with little fuss, choosing to focus on what they can do instead of carping about what’s not in their control.

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That was the theme of Rahul Dravid’s press conference, two days ahead of the start of his final assignment as India’s head coach. That Dravid wasn’t interested in seeking another term has been obvious for a while now, but replying to a direct question, the
former captain confirmed that this was the last time
‘that I am in charge of the team’. He refused to be drawn into debates on the quality of pitches – Sri Lanka were shot out for 77 by South Africa at the same venue where India will take on Ireland on Wednesday – or of the cramped schedule once the Super Eights start – ‘Everyone has the same challenge, it’s not only India that is going to have to travel, play and travel’.

Dravid has always been a straight shooter. True, you sometimes come away from a press conference lasting nearly 20 minutes wondering whether he had actually said anything headline-worthy, but Dravid has seldom shied away from a tough question, hardly has he tried to escape the tough moments, such as the one immediately after the 50-over World Cup final when India’s hopes were emphatically dashed in Ahmedabad by Australia.

Much of Dravid’s equanimity and level-headedness has rubbed off on his wards. Through the weight of expectations and the pressures of playing for India which comes with an unsaid ‘You must win’ caveat, the players have managed to find ways to keep themselves light and relatively relaxed without losing sight of the eventual goal. That might not always result in ultimate glory – indeed, India have gone 11 years now without global silverware – but that’s not because the players have frozen at key moments or allowed the stage, or the occasion, to get the better of them.

There was just a little bit of tomfoolery at Monday’s training stint, much of it restricted to the somewhat uneven designated fielding area where, understandably, decibel levels peaked when a direct hit was scored or a difficult catch was made to look ridiculously easy. Yuzvendra Chahal, by no means the most assured catcher in the team, received the loudest cheers every time he did merely what was required of him, but the banter and leg-pulling was received with the same grace and joy with which it was given.

Across the narrow pathway to where the ‘nets’ were, there was a greater sense of gravity. There were mini-battles within the larger picture – Jasprit Bumrah to Virat Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav, for instance. Or Hardik Pandya vs Kohli on a slightly dubious surface where, off a particular spot near the good length, the ball spat alarmingly without warning. Kohli likes to be tested but not bested – not even at nets. He did everything he could to get behind the line of the ball, but there is only so much even the very best can do when the ball behaves as if it has a mind of its own. In some deep recess of the enormous memory bank at his disposal, Kohli would have stored this data away. In a crunch situation, he will dig deep to relive that experience and put the lessons learnt from that to fabulous use.

There was a constant dialogue between batter and bowlers, especially when that batter was Kohli. The 35-year-old isn’t so obsessed with his pursuit of perfection that he won’t tell a specific bowler how he is going, or what he needs to do to get that fraction better. He must have been aware that every move of his was being dissected by the 20-plus mediapersons hovering busily nearby, but he allowed that to affect neither his concentration nor his intent. After all, he has been in far more hair-raising real-life scenarios, hasn’t he?

The air of quiet confidence was hard to miss, even if there was a businesslike touch to the proceedings at the nets. This Indian side is not one full of greenhorns but a vastly experienced bunch that has been in several important tournaments together for a while now. They don’t need to be told what is expected of them, for they know how to get themselves up for battle. Let’s leave the eloquent Dravid with the last words: “I always say that we have the wrong guys in the team if they need to be motivated to play for India.” Pithy much, anyone?

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