“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” — Helen Keller
To emerge as the champions in a tournament is indeed a great achievement in itself. However, to achieve the same thing twice consecutively requires great persistence, determination and confidence. On 18 June, India will have the chance to get their hands firmly on the coveted Champions Trophy title for the third, and also the second consecutive time, when they face their arch-rivals Pakistan in the final.
It came as a surprise to many when India lifted the Champions Trophy in 2013. The team were in a rebuilding phase with most of the players playing for the first time in the tournament.
Moreover, the fact that the tournament was in England also was considered as a hindrance to India’s success in the campaign owing to the vulnerability of the Indian batsmen to the seaming conditions. However, the efforts of the new opening partners, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, an ever dependable Virat Kohli, cunning strategies from captain MS Dhoni and a bowling attack that reaped rich dividends as a unit, saw India emerge as the champions beating England in the final.
However, this time, things are not the same as 2013 for India despite the fact that the tournament was held in the same venue, England. Kohli’s men have the advantage experience-wise as a majority of the players selected for the tournament were part of the previous title-winning campaign. The core of the team is basically the same with some new additions in Jasprit Bumrah, Kedar Jadhav and others. However, the team wasn’t in a good mental shape coming into this tournament.
Batsmen like Rohit, Ajinkya Rahane and Kohli struggling with form and controversies regarding the rift between the captain and the coach had started taking a toll on the mindset of the players.
In these circumstances, everyone expressed their doubts about India defending their title. However, that is exactly what champions do! They take adversity in their stride, overcome every hurdle in their path and rise up stronger each time after falling down. India showed that the controversy had hardly bothered them and gave a hint of what was about to come in the tournament after they humbled both New Zealand and Bangladesh comprehensively in the warm-up games.
Form was definitely not in India’s favour coming into this tournament. However, they had optimism, hope and self-belief that helped them to traverse the path to the final successfully once again. The path leading to this point wasn’t easy. Here’s a look at how India strode into the final:
Breezing past arch-rivals Pakistan
India have produced spectacular performances whenever they have clashed with Pakistan in ICC tournaments of late. And facing Pakistan in the first match of the contest somehow turned out to be a huge motivating factor and confidence booster for them. Batting first, the Indian batsmen began striking chords that resembled those struck during the 2013 Champions Trophy. They piled up a total of 319/3 riding on half-centuries from each of their top-four batsmen in Dhawan, Rohit, Kohli and Yuvraj Singh.
The opening duo of Dhawan and Rohit shrugged off criticism and produced 136-run stand between them. The partnership came to an end with Dhawan miscuing a full toss bowled by young Shadab Khan. Once Dhawan departed for a run-a-ball knock of 68 runs, it was time for the Kohli to stamp his authority on the match. First, he stitched a partnership of 56 runs with Rohit and then a whirlwind stand of 93 runs with Yuvraj, who bludgeoned his way to 53 off 32 balls.
Kohli played the second fiddle till Yuvraj was out there in the middle. However, once he departed he started accelerating in his own way. And the icing on the cake was Hardik Pandya’s innings, where he struck three consecutive sixes in the last over off Imad Wasim to end up playing a cameo of 20* (off six balls).
Pakistan began the chase well scoring 47 runs without losing any wickets at a run rate of around six. However, they soon had a spectacular collapse, getting bowled out for only 164 runs. Umesh Yadav was the pick of the Indian bowlers, ending up with figures of 3/30 whereas Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja accounted for identical figures of 2/43. The main highlight of the match was Shoaib Malik’s run-out by Jadeja that turned the tide completely in India’s favour. Thus, India started their title defence with flying colours over arch-rivals Pakistan.
Stunned by Sri Lanka
It was another fabulous batting effort by the Indian batsmen after their impressive showing in the first match against Pakistan. Rohit and Dhawan notched up their second consecutive century stand of the tournament. Shikhar Dhawan also made his way to a fabulous innings of 125 runs while Rohit struck his second consecutive fifty of the tournament. It turned out to be an off-day for Kohli as he was out for a duck. However, an impressive knock of 63 by MS Dhoni and a cameo of 25 by Jadhav at the end took India’s total to 321/6 in their fifty overs. Till then it had looked like another walk in the park for India as they were playing a relatively inexperienced Sri Lankan side.
However, on the out and out batting deck at the Oval, the immense talent and potential of the young Lankan batsmen came to the fore as they chased down India’s total with seven wickets in hand and eight balls to spare. Danushka Gunathilaka (76) and Kusal Mendis (89) were the main architects of the fabulous victory while Angelo Mathews also remained unbeaten on 52.
Kusal Perera’s 47 and Asela Gunaratne’s 34*(21) also deserve special mention as the chase wouldn’t have been possible without their contributions. This defeat to the Lankans shook India hard and forced them to do a reality check of themselves as the next match was against a dangerous South African side.
Applying the choke
It turned out to be a do-or-die encounter for both the teams. A victory for either team would lead them to the semi-finals. Keeping in mind the failure of the bowlers against Sri Lanka, Kohli brought his main weapon, Ravichandran Ashwin, back into the side at the cost of Umesh Yadav and decided to operate with two main seamers in Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah with Pandya acting as the third seaming option. Bumrah was handed the responsibility of bowling with the new ball along with Bhuvneshwar. And both of them showed a defensive approach in tying up the South African opening duo of Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock.
However, India’s approach wasn’t negative at all as it built pressure on their rivals and thus helped Ravichandran Ashwin to make a much-important breakthrough, in the form of Amla’s wicket, when he came on to bowl. A couple of run outs in the form of AB de Villiers and David Miller followed and South Africa couldn’t recover from the jolts. They collapsed for a paltry 191 runs as De Kock (53) was the only batsman who crossed the 50-run mark. India then rode on Dhawan’s 78 and Kohli’s 76* to chase down the total with ease. Bumrah was adjudged the ‘Man of the Match’ for his terrific bowling spell of 8-28-2 as India got their ticket to play Bangladesh in the semi-finals.
Dominating the Bangladeshi Tigers
The stage was set for yet another enthralling Bangladesh-India encounter, which were high-octane clashes when they met each other in ICC tournaments on the previous two occasions. India emerged victorious on both occasions — first in the quarter-finals of the 2015 World Cup and second in a do-or-die match in World T20 2016. The spirited Bangladeshi players seemed to be keen to avenge their defeats. However, their dreams were dealt a serious blow when Bhuvneshwar’s spell reduced them to 31/2 in the seventh over of the innings.
However, Tamim Iqbal (70) and Mushfiqur Rahim (61) revived Bangladesh’s hopes again as they took their score to 154/2. None of the bowlers could get them dismissed. But, Jadhav came in as a surprise and cleaned up Tamim Iqbal. His next victim was Rahim who hit a nice loopy full toss straight to Kohli at mid-wicket.
Once, they departed, none of the batsmen could take charge and take Bangladesh to that total over 300 runs that looked possible at one stage. It was skipper Mashrafe Mortaza’s useful knock of 30*(25) that took Bangladesh to a fighting total of 264/7.
Dhawan and Rohit began the chase like just another day. However, they couldn’t complete a century stand as Dhawan fell just four runs short of his fifty leaving India on a score of 87/1 in the 15th over of the innings. However, once Kohli joined hands with Rohit in the middle there was no stopping them. Rohit notched up yet another ODI century, his first in Champions Trophy, as he remained unbeaten on 123 at the end. Kohli finished off the innings with a boundary and remained stranded on 96* as India chased down the total in just 40.1 overs.
The final showdown awaits…
India haven’t exactly had the smoothest of entries into the final. But here they are again ready to take on their arch-rivals for the second time in the tournament. The last time they met twice in an ICC tournament was at the inaugural edition of World T20 in 2007. India won both the group encounter and the final against them to lift the trophy. So, can India repeat their 2007 World T20 heroics to lift the trophy this time and defend their title in the process as well? Given their form and potential, they should.
(This article first appeared on Firstpost on June 17, 2017)