India head coach Ravi Shastri took a dig at the International Cricket Council on Sunday for changing the criterion for qualifying for the World Test Championship final midway during the cycle.
India were sitting pretty at the top of the table with 360 points when the Covid-forced suspension in cricket prompted the world body to make the matches not played null and void, making percentage of points contested the basis of qualification instead of the actual points won.
Following the new system, India went down the table with an away series in Australia, followed by a home rubber against England on their schedule. Though Shastri revelled in the resilience shown by his team in making it to the WTC final at Lord’s against New Zealand, he maintained that rules should not be changed midstream.
“Please don’t shift the goalposts,” Shastri said. He went on: “I am sitting at home in Covid in the month of October-November. You have got more points than any other team in the world, 360 at that time. Suddenly, a week later without playing cricket some rule comes, that they are going on percentage (point) system (PCT).
That way you go from No. 1 to No. 3 in a week. Fine. That’s because of countries not wanting to travel. I have two doors left… Sitting on top of the table comfortably, (but) they (read, ICC) said ‘no, you have to go to Australia, you have to beat Australia’. “Now, how many teams in 100 years or the last 10 years have gone to Australia with a guarantee that they will beat Australia? If you don’t beat Australia, you come back home and beat England 4-0, you get close to 500 points, you still don’t qualify. So we have had to go down every hole to find water. We found it and we earned our stripes to be in the final of the World Test Championship, the biggest trophy in the world,” Shastri was at his sarcastic best.
A 3-1 series win against England gave India the ticket to the WTC final against New Zealand. After beating Australia 2-1 in their backyard, they needed to win the home series against England by at least the same margin.
Virat Kohli and Co did more than that and stormed into the final as table-toppers. As the curtain dropped on the Test series in Ahmedabad, they sent out a message on the BCCI website: “ICC WTC final, here we come: Team India”. “Well, we are quite relieved now that we are into the final. The last two years, two-and-a-half years, how we have played, we deserved to be in that final,” Kohli said.
The India captain always tried to play down the team’s WTC aspirations. But at the back of their minds, they took it as a badge of honour. Vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane and senior fast bowler Ishant Sharma spoke about how winning the WTC would be “equal to” winning the World Cup. But mid-December last year, India’s journey came close to derailment following the 36 all out in Adelaide.
But India subsequently conquered Australia with a severely depleted squad, players like Washington Sundar and T Natarajan, for example, rising to the challenge, players who according to Shastri, wouldn’t have played Test cricket under normal circumstances. After losing the first Test against England, they again bounced back in style.
A month earlier, those in the ICC smart seats decided to make the Covid-forced cancelled matches null and void and determine the WTC league standings only from the matches played. It made the PCT earned from matches played all-important. It made India’s job difficult. They suddenly slipped down the WTC table, with a Test series Down Under looming. India conquered Australia with a severely depleted squad, players like Washington Sundar and T Natarajan, for example, rising to the challenge, players who according to Shastri, wouldn’t have played Test cricket under normal circumstances. After losing the first Test against England, they again bounced back in style.
The team bonded well inside the bio-bubble, the coach said.
“I think the best thing that has happened is talking cricket amongst the team members and they had no choice, so they were forced to do it and that’s been a big help,” Shastri said.
The Indian players have been staying in the bubble for close to six months now. While bubble life is tough, there is an upside to it also. Mutual trust grew. The bonding became stronger.
“They (players) have gotten to understand each others’ background, mental state, where they come from, where they are in life, settled, unsettled. It allowed them to open themselves to their colleagues a lot more, discuss personal issues, you know, more freely, win more trust from the team members, a lot of positives, like you mentioned, because of this bubble,” the head coach observed. From a coach’s perspective also, as Shastri mentioned, the approach changed. Empathy became the operative word.