Hosts have power but some cannot accept it

Mark Ramprakash




Sport Cricket

With 47 games played and one to go it is already clear that, whatever happens in Ahmedabad tomorrow, the Cricket World Cup has been a huge success. Of course there has been wonderful cricket, but you also have to admire the logistical operation that has brought it all together almost flawlessly across a huge nation. Despite that I have got the impression that some members of the public, and certainly some sections of the media, have been looking for cock-ups, corruption or conspiracy at every turn: stories about the bad outfield at Dharamsala, about air pollution in Delhi, which wicket is being used at the Wankhede. There seems a determination to be negative, and I wonder whether some of it is unconscious bias from people who look on India as a former colony and are struggling to come to terms with the power they now have in cricket. The fuss about the pitch used for India’s semi-final against New Zealand was a case in point. India won an important toss and got a massive score on what was obviously a decent pitch, as Kane Williamson admitted afterwards. It was a meaningless distraction that for me took nothing away from another great performance from a magnificent team. India’s top six should be a template for 50-over batting: very technical players whose games are built around being well-balanced, with orthodox grips, who get forward and back well, present the full face well, and because of their balance have good timing. As a purist and a traditionalist I have celebrated not just their skill but also their method, and they have shown that in this format there is nothing as valuable as high-class strokeplayers who can play really strong shots off the front foot and the back foot. How many reverse sweeps have we seen from them? How many ramp shots? Their method means they are more likely to be consistent, and India’s top five have averaged 67.63 across the tournament – nobody else comes close, and Australia’s top five averages a distant 39.48. In any 50-over game if you can win the powerplay you’re in a good position and Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill have been fantastic in that regard – and then they give nothing away. Virat Kohli, the sole survivor of the India team that won in 2011, has been incredible: to score 711 runs, and pass 50 in eight out of 10 innings, is astonishing consistency. I hope people in the UK have taken notice. I think we have been incoherent in our coaching strategy in the last 10 years, with people telling kids just to go hit it, have fun, stand how you like, grip how you like. In Asia, not just India, it is the opposite: there is a thirst to teach and to learn the setup, the intricacies, the nuance of batting, how to adapt to different surfaces and formats and different styles of bowling. For me this Indian batting machine should silence once and for all England’s one-size-fits-all, go-hard-or-go-home brigade, and put in their place the batters who go out and get 25 off 15 and think they’ve had a great night. This is coupled with the best Indian pace attack we have ever seen. There was a lot of talk in the tournament about flat wickets and high-scoring matches, how hard it would be for the fast bowlers, but the best have managed to penetrate. Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj are all fast bowlers with versatility and variety, and they have consistently made early inroads. While India’s top five batters have averaged 67.63, the top five in teams facing them have averaged just 26.06. Then they have the spin of Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav, players good enough to keep the class of Ravichandran Ashwin out of the side. They are a complete team and it is no surprise that they have won every game: the greatest threat to that record has been complacency, because they are far and away the best side in the tournament. There has been no sign of that. Perhaps their mentality has been the most impressive thing about India. There is a Jack Nicklaus quote that sticks in my mind: “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head.” I feel like in this India team every individual has complete clarity, almost as if they have visualised it before they’ve seen it, and then they go out and make it happen. They had a very thorough buildup and came into the tournament very certain about their roles and their skills. You used to say of Test cricket that the best team would win over five days, but the same has been true here in 50 overs. However there is one game yet to be played, and if any team can challenge this side at this point it is probably the Australians, because of their ultra-competitive nature. They were pretty average before the tournament and started it badly, albeit with two very tough games, but somehow they have galvanised. In my opinion they are nowhere near the level of previous Australia sides in terms of overall quality but they have found a way. They have had David Warner, at 37, amazingly at the top of his game, making impactful scores that help win games. Meanwhile Adam Zampa has taken more wickets than anyone but Shami, and their trio of experienced seamers have delivered the consistency they are known for. But across the tournament different individuals have delivered match-winning performances at different moments. Against Afghanistan Glenn Maxwell delivered surely the greatest individual performance of them all. He’s a special talent, with a lot of experience and amazing hand-eye coordination, which allowed him to keep hitting sixes when overcome by cramp and practically unable to move his legs. It required incredible skill and a fair bit of luck, but good footwork is going out of fashion and I fully expect white-ball batting, particularly in the 20-over game, to end up with people trying to emulate the Maxwell method, feet planted and bat raised, basically like baseball hitters. India have produced what I feel is the perfect model for 50-over batting, but Maxwell showed that night there is another way. In the heat of battle and against one of the great one-day sides, Australia might need to display once more that same combination of skill and stubborn refusal to be beaten.