Dhoni finally got the players he always wanted
By Veturi Srivatsa
By snatching the Champions Trophy from the lap of the England team and forcing Captain Alistair Cook to tear his victory speech, Mahendra Singh Dhoni's fearless gladiators have shown that a match is not lost till it is actually lost.
For once, it would not be a cliché to say that it was a total team effort, though they had not changed the playing eleven at all. Otherwise, how would they have won match after match so convincingly and claim the trophy without losing a game?
During the entire tournament, India never got into a do-or-die situation. Even in the rain-hit truncated final, where they were at a disadvantage after losing the toss, Dhoni, like Viswanathan Anand, maneuvred his pieces to get into a winning position with his brilliant end-game strategy.
Dhoni's crafty planning and intuitive bowling changes emboldened his starry-eyed teammates to give the championship match a fairy tale finish. The victory is all the more sweet as it has come in cold blustery English conditions of June.
Seldom have the Indians done well in the first part of the English summer. Come to think of it, soon after winning the 2011 World Cup, two years ago, Dhoni's side shivered to capitulate.
The weather was ideal for the Englishmen to revel, the only tide in India's favour came when Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin extracted some unbelievable turn to leave the batsmen guessing on a pitch freshened up after a shower.
Only the present India team on current form would have seen a window of opportunity after setting a modest 130-run target, thanks to Player of the Final Jadeja's flourish with the bat. The team refused to give in even when the match seemed to have slipped from their grasp.
They then had a glimmer of hope when Ishant Sharma removed the bulldozing Ravi Bopara and Eoin Morgan off successive balls. They jumped into the situation like true champions to pull it off, leaving England to rue over the ifs and buts of a match in which both teams had their moments of ecstasy as well as agony, rain halts making the wait excruciatingly painful.
Dhoni, who after winning the 2007 Twenty20 World Cup had said he would like to have players who were willing to stand in front of a moving truck for him. He thinks he now has such daredevils under his charge.
Dhoni's mantra for his team mates is simple: "We are the No.1 team and we should play like a No.1 side," though many Englishmen rightly believe that their team lost the match more than India winning. There is little doubt that the best team won even if England deserved to win.
Dhoni justified all his moves. He said Shikhar Dhawan, the Player of the Tournament, and Rohit Sharma gave confidence to the dressing room. He is happy to have brought down the average of his team to 26.
In the context of the recent happenings, he made it a point to compliment the board for creating excellent infrastructure for players to improve their fielding. He reminded that players of his generation and his seniors were brought up on fields that did not allow them to dive, they could only roll and slide. The green outfields helped the new breed of fielders to do things players before them were scared to do.
The jury is still out on the newcomers who, with the honourable exception of Virat Kohli, have to prove that they have truly arrived. If Dhawan is getting away with his audacious strokes, a la Virender Sehwag, and Rohit is hitting through the line and also missing some straight ones, they can get away with their eye-hand coordination and reflexes.
Jadeja has arrived on the scene on the back of a couple of huge triple centuries on the domestic circuit when India were looking for a bowling all-rounder. The perennial search for another Kapil Dev is proving futile. Jadeja quickly transformed himself into a bowling all-rounder who can hit some lusty blows coming in to bat at No 7. Importantly, his capabilities with both ball and bat gave the Test attack the much needed variety, a third spinner and a fifth bowler.
The question to be asked is can the youngsters' technique match their temperament? Dhoni answered it, saying he would prefer a player with guts to one with abundance of skills. He has to be right, having won the Twenty20 World Championship, the World Cup and now the Champions Trophy. He also wants men who can throw themselves at the ball in the field. His fundas are clear and his teammates have understood him and are willing to go with him.
What does the Champions Trophy success mean to the chucked out stars like Virendra Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan? They seem to be already fading from memory. To be fair to Dhoni and also the national selectors, these great players went out of the team on form after getting ample opportunities to fight their way back in. A couple of them are sulking, but that will not get them back into the side.
After seeing this Indian team playing, Einstein would have added the word cricketers to his quotable quote to read: "If you want your children to be intelligent 'cricketers', read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."
The stuff these cricketers produced in the Champions Trophy is fabulous, indeed!
(Veturi Srivatsa is the sports editor of IANS. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org) - IANS