The ‘What If?’ of Indian Cricket

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Indian Cricket Team
Courtesy: The Indian Express

Cricket is a game of innate possibilities. There have been multiple instances where the sport has thrown surprises, be it due to an individual performance, a team pulling off an unexpected miracle or even the weather playing a spoilsport. Though the fraternity has witnessed some of the most unfortunate events on the cricket field, the curious human brain has not stopped exploring the world of “What if?”. Here’s to the three times where a possible change in scenario would have been decisive.

India vs New Zealand, ICC WC 2019:

The rain played a villain for India against New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup, not once but twice. The group stage encounter at Trent Bridge was abandoned courtesy a persistent rain. The washout meant that the points were shared, virtually maring India’s chance to finish at the top of the table and eventually face the fourth placed Australia. The other time rain spoiled play was arguably one of the saddest moments for Indian cricket. 

MSD's crucial runout in the penultimate over
Courtesy: DNA India

In the semifinals at Old Trafford Manchester, the Indian team had a good first half before the rain gods decided to take commands on the allotted Tuesday afternoon. New Zealand, at the end of 45.1 overs had only managed 211 for 5 batting first. They had played out most of the tougher conditions and had laid a foundation for a seemingly easy run chase. However, the shift to the reserved day made the advantage turn into a disadvantage. The pitch under covers for an entire day offered moisture to the New Zealand seamers and resulted in what is regarded as Indian cricket’s worst 45 minute period. Leaves us with an intriguing question, what if it had not rained then? 

What if this reain delay never happened?
Courtesy: Scroll

What if it had not rained?

The Indians would have restricted New Zealand to the same score of around 240 even then. The Indian top-order though would have had the ball coming onto the bat nicely and could have found their timing easily. The Top 3 had been in tremendous form throughout and chasing the target was almost certain. Be it the experiences of Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni or the young blood of Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant, the underexplored Indian middle order too would have found it easy to cope up with the situation devoid of rain and overcast conditions. There would have been no panics, no revivals, no heart-breaking run outs and more importantly no more ICC Trophy curses. The win would have set up a dream final at Lords against the Englishmen and who knows, Virat Kohli would well reincarnate the Kapil Dev of 1983. 

India vs West Indies, ICC T20WC Semi-final 2016:

Virat Kohli at his imperious best
Courtesy: Sportskeeda

India were set to play West Indies in the T20 World Cup semi-finals amidst the sea of blue at Wankhede in 2016. Filled with firepower and cricketing geniuses, the West Indies team had come to the fore in their beloved format. Put in to bat, getting a high score on the board was paramount. The openers gave India a brisk start and set the stage for yet another Virat Kohli blast. The talisman hit the ball all around the park to bring up his 16th T20I fifty. Ably supported by Rahane and Dhoni, Kohli took India to a respectable total of 192. 

R Ashwin's crucial no ball

Come the defense, penetrating early with wickets held key against the mighty West-Indian batting line-up. Jasprit Bumrah facilitated the intrusion dismissing Chirs Gayle only in the second over. Marlon Samuels followed suit courtesy Nehra in the next over. However, the onslaught was only about to begin. Simmons, combined with Charles and Russel, took the Indians to the cleaners guiding Windies to another T20 World Cup final. Their cause was ably supported by the two Indian no-balls blunders. Ashwin had the right-hander caught at third man in the 7th over and had also caught him off Pandya in the 15th, both times the bowler overstepping. It was the pressure that got the better of the bowlers on both occasions. Maybe the result wouldn’t have altered, but the curious cricketing mind won’t refrain from thinking,  “What if both or at least either of the two had not overstepped?”

What if the bowlers had not overstepped? 

What if? Hardik Pandya had bowled a lega delivery
Courtesy: CricketAddictor

Simmons had already established himself and his dismissal would have been crucial to India’s winning chances. West Indies did have a formidable and a hard hitting middle order, but their recent form had not been that great. They relied on the openers more often than not and the one time their middle order was tested, they fell prey to Afghanistan’s spin attack. Wicket of Summons in the powerplay would have sent a panic down the order and a possible shuffle would have been witnessed. The likes of Russell, Sammy, Bravo and Brathwaite would then be forced to curb their natural hitting instinct to stabilize the innings initially. Simmons, second no-ball wicket however, would have made the match more interesting if the ball was legal. The wicket would have got the crowd back on their feet and it wouldn’t have been easy for the new batsman to score right from the word go. The overall dynamics of the game would have shifted dramatically and nevermind the result, the match would have promised a nail-biting and an enthralling finish.

India vs Sri Lanka, ICC T20 WC Final 2014:

After Yuvraj Singh's wicket
Courtesy: The Guardian

Played at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium in Bangladesh, the ICC T20 World Cup final of 2014 stirred unrest amongst the Indian fans. India, on a slowish Dhaka wicket,  managed a steady start despite an early Ajinkya Rahane dismissal. Virat Kohli steadied the ship for the Indians meanwhile also making a justice to his T20 average with a half century. Yuvraj Singh, the Indian World Cup specialist came in at number 4 but struggled from the word go. He tried to get his eye in but failed to convert even the easy chances. Yuvraj’s inability to rotate strike also added to the Indian vows as the scorecard seemed to hit a road-block. The Indians only managed to score 19 off the last 4 overs posting a just-about-par 130 on board. Lankans chased down the target easily with 13 balls left earning their maiden T20 crown. Yuvraj Singh has had an illustrious cricket career, hence a rare bad day at office is well justified. But amidst all the criticism that flaked later, the cricketing mind wonders, “What if Yuvraj had played another stunner that day?” 

What if Yuvraj had reincarnated his magic
Courtesy: Sportskeeda

What if Yuvraj recreated the magic he is known for?

The flamboyant left-hander came in at 64/2 with almost 10 overs left. If he had adjusted to the slowness of the pitch and countered the Lankan spinners efficiently in his initial phase, he would have found it relatively easier to attack the seamers later on. The sweeps, lofted drives and the stan-tall pull shots would have got his rhythm back and the southpaw would have taken India to a winning total. Like he has often done in ICC tournaments, Yuvraj Singh in even slightest of forms would have been a perfect aid to the impeccable Virat Kohli.

At his prime, Yuvraj Singh
Courtesy: CA

Even a run-a-ball innings would mean rotation of strike giving Kohli enough opportunities to free his hand. It would have also released pressure on Dhoni who was to follow Yuvraj from India. Another 30 runs and the Indians would have been in contention for their second T20 crown. Moreover, it would have also established a Dhoni-led Legacy in international cricket, with him being the only captain to hold ICC ODI World Cup, ICC Champions Trophy and the ICC T20 World Cup title, all at once. Flipside though, it would have spoiled a perfect farewell for the Sri Lankan veterans Kumar Sangakara and Mahela Jayawardane. But having said that, it was heartening to see the Indians give Yuvraj many more opportunities in future. His revival against England in an ODI at Cuttack, 2017 with Dhoni is one of his best innings the cricketing world has ever witnessed.

Get your imaginations going, let us know!!

We at ICN369 would be happy to start a thread of thoughts amidst the brains of all cricket fans out there. Reach out to us with a similar ‘What If?’ moments you feel would have  made Indian cricket more interesting. Afterall, if playing cricket in lockdown isn’t feasible, reliving few of its key times always is!

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