Virat Kohli‘s India have blown away oppositions at home – just ask South Africa and Bangladesh who were at the receiving end recently. And armed with an incredible bowling attack, they’ve also established their dominance overseas, including winning a historic Test series in Australia in January earlier this year. So, are India the best team in the world now?
India have been perched at No. 1 on the ICC’s Test ranking for a few years now, and Kohli also believed that they’re one of best teams overall. “If you look at teams across formats now, I would say we’re in the top-two teams in the world,” Kohli told India Today. “And we’re very proud of that because we started off with a young bunch and transition is never easy but the guys have slowly understood the importance of belief and understanding their role in taking Indian cricket forward. So, insecurity about their own game has vanished. If you see we enjoy each other’s success and company and everyone is just wanting to help one way or the other for the betterment of Indian cricket team and in return the betterment of Indian cricket as a whole.”
India have chalked up some consistent performances across formats, but Kohli is yet to lift a global trophy as captain. India have not won an ICC global tournament since 2013, when MS Dhoni’s men clinched the Champions Trophy. Incidentally, that was Kohli’s second global title after being part of Dhoni’s 2011 World Cup-winning team.
The missing global title was something that the newly-appointed BCCI president Sourav Ganguly also pinpointed in October.
Kohli conceded that winning an ICC title was “like an obsession”, but prioritised process over results and numbers. He also said that his side relished being under pressure and finding a way past it.
“You could say winning an ICC tournament is like an obsession or like a wish that people have, which is a beautiful thing to wish for becaus it’s seen at a global level and every cricketer would want to win that,” he said. “But if you ask me, honestly I didn’t ever think I would be part of the winning World Cup team in my first World Cup or two years down the line we will win the Champions Trophy as well. I never thought of these things but it happened. So, it was meant to happen for us.
“But, in hindsight you can look at a lot of things. We obviously have the desire to win big tournaments and big series and we want to give our best effort possible. But, if you focus on things which are only based on success and numbers and results, you don’t enjoy the process. We play well as a team because we enjoy the process.”
Kohli himself has been the central figure behind India’s bumper run ever since he took charge as captain in all formats in 2016. In his quest to make India the best team ever, he has been very particular about not compromising on his fitness. Working on his diet and monitoring his sleeping habits, Kohli said, helped him be more energetic on the field. But, how does he maintain peak intensity at all times?
“Basically, I hate losing in anything,” he said. “That’s how a sportsman is made up. That’s the make-up of any sportsman competing at the highest level. So, that’s a given. No one is fine with losing or failing. You accept it, you process it – that’s different. But, the most important thing for me to do anything on the field is I don’t want’ any maybes or what-ifs.”
One of the key ingredients behind India’s unprecedented success in recent years is the depth in their attack, especially the well-rounded fast bowling contingent. In the recently-concluded home Test season, both Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were unavailable, but Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, and Umesh Yadav fired collectively, helping the team notch up four successive innings victories.
Kohli said that while there is “healthy competition” among the pace pack it is the camaraderie they share with each other that makes the attack special.
“No one is wanting to outdo someone else,” he said. “They’re like a bunch of friends wanting to help each other. [There’s] healthy competition but the trust they’ve on each other, I’ve never seen them have an argument… a serious one. No jealously. Zero. That’s their biggest strength. They don’t care whether a Shami is at No. 7 now, Jassi [Jasprit Bumrah] is at whatever ranking he’s or Ishant is not. Ishant is happy , he has played 90 Tests and he understands he’s a very important part of team India – of inspiring the next lot of fast bowlers. That to him is more special than a ranking of ten players in the world and so on and so forth. So, full credit to these guys for being able to create this aura around them because of that friendship, belief and the intent being in the right place.”
Earlier this week, Rahul Dravid, the head of cricket at the National Cricket Academy (NCA), reckoned that India’s fast-bowling renaissance at the international level has inspired the next-gen quicks too.
“Every year now in Under-19 cricket, we’ve had some very good fast bowlers. Last time, we had three of them in Kamlesh, Shivam and Ishan [Porel]. This year also you will see some good fast bowlers in the team,” Dravid had said.”When you have role models and you have heroes like the senior team… I think what Ishant [Sharma], [Mohammed] Shami, Umesh [Yadav], Bhuvneshwar Kumar and [Jasprit] Bumrah are doing, is they are actually in a way becoming role models for a lot of younger generation of boys who believe now they can be fast bowlers. They can bowl fast and be successful in India. It’s great to see that. Obviously we had people like Kapil [Dev], Sri [Javagal Srinath], Zaheer [Khan] and all in the past. But as a group, this is probably one of the best fast-bowling attacks we have ever had. I think that’s a great inspiration for a lot of these young boys.”
Wil Parker dreams of meeting Shane Warne after ‘special’ debut
Wil Parker, the 17-year-old Victoria legspinner, had never been to the SCG before being handed a Sheffield Shield debut this week.
It has been a wide-eyed experience: presented his cap by Peter Siddle – who is his room-mate for the Sydney trip and made his first-class debut when Parker was three – to be the state’s fourth-youngest debutant (behind team-mate Jake Fraser-McGurk), followed by a day watching Nathan Lyon go about his work and then a maiden first-class wicket of a batsman who scored a Test century a little over a year ago.
Kurtis Patterson, batting confidently on 54, advanced down the pitch and got a thin edge to wicketkeeper Seb Gotch although he would have been out stumped anyway.
“I didn’t think I got the wicket because Gotchy’s reaction was if he’d missed but he ended up taking the catch which was pretty special,” Parker said. “Kurtis Patterson, not a bad wicket to get first up. Over the moon.”
Did him with the wrong ‘un? “Nah, it just slid on,” he admitted. “I like to say I have a wrong ‘un and a toppy, still working on the flipper.”
— Victorian Cricket Team (@VicStateCricket) February 15, 2020
Naturally for an Australian legspinner, especially one from Victoria, the next part is fairly obvious. The mention of Shane Warne. “Oh, yeah, my idol,” he said. “Let’s be honest, every young legspinner, let alone a Victorian, should have Shane Warne as their idol.”
He has yet to meet Warne. “That would be a dream to have a chat with about legspinning, specifically, and just life as well.”
For a moment consider that Warne played his last match for Australia in 2007. A lot of highlights have been watched on YouTube. On Parker’s bedroom wall, the memories are of more recent Australian vintages: the 2013-14 Ashes-winning side and the 2015 World Cup team.
While a debut at the MCG may have ticked every box, striding out at the SCG is a heck of a way to see a ground for the first time. “I’m actually a Sydney Swans fan so it’s actually not bad debuting here, pretty special. I’ve never been here, so first time to play here is pretty special.”
A (non-alcoholic) drink with Lyon after this match would cap things off. “Yesterday [Friday] was pretty special to sit back and watching from the changing rooms…that would be something special, just to sit down with him.”
The AFL mention moves neatly onto another major part of the Parker story. He is a hugely talented dual sportsman – tipped to have a chance of a professional football career – with the choice that will bring before too long, but not quite yet.
“There will have to be a time where I make a decision but at the moment I’m just trying to take each season as it goes. At the moment it’s cricket season, I’m loving cricket, and when it’s footy I love footy. There will be a time to make a decision but that’s not just yet. Just trying to enjoy cricket at the moment, representing my state at the SCG is pretty special.”
At the moment he balances cricket training with Monash Tigers and football with NAB League side Eastern Ranges. “Currently I’m trying to get to some pre-season sessions at the moment, juggle it all. Still keeping fit, kicking the footy around,” he said.
Victoria team-mate Will Sutherland had the same decision to make and went with cricket. “He reckoned he was always going to play cricket, whereas I don’t really know yet,” Parker said.
There is strong sporting linage in the family. His uncle, Geoff, played 37 first-class matches for South Australia and Victoria between 1985 and 1999. In 1988 he captained Australia Young Cricketers at the Youth World Cup and also played football in the late 1980s. He now works in AFL recruiting with Port Adelaide.
Australia strong favourites, but will expectation derail them?
Australia are again the powerhouse of the women’s game after a two-year period where they have taken their performances to a new level following the disappointment at the 2017 50-over World Cup in England when they fell at the semi-finals with Harmanpreet Kaur playing one of the greatest innings in World Cup history. They have a squad chock full of allrounders – a significant tactical switch over the last few months with coach Matthew Mott believing specialist batters in the middle order did not have enough chance to make an impact in T20 – and a bowling attack with plenty of variety, from the point-of-difference pace of Tayla Vlaeminck to the sharply-spun leg-breaks of Georgia Wareham. However, they were inconsistent during the T20I tri-series against England and India with three key top-order players – Meg Lanning, Ellyse Perry and especially Alyssa Healy – not having the returns that would be expected. That tournament was their toughest challenge for a considerable period of time having swept away West Indies and Sri Lanka, so it could end up being viewed as a timely test. And, ultimately, they still found a way to win which in tournament play can be vital.
Meg Lanning (capt), Rachael Haynes, Erin Burns, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy (wk), Jess Jonassen, Delissa Kimmince, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland, Tayla Vlaeminck, Georgia Wareham (Coach: Matthew Mott)
February 21: India, Sydney Showground
February 24: Sri Lanka, WACA
February 27: Bangladesh, Canberra
March 2: New Zealand, Melbourne
T20 World Cup history
Australia have dominated the event. Four-times champions, and the current holders, they have only once not reached the final – in the inaugural tournament in 2009. Between 2010 and 2014 they won a hat-trick of titles before being tripped by West Indies in 2016.
Their Super Over defeat against England in Canberra was their first misstep since the final T20I in England last year – by when the Ashes were well and truly decided – and they were then overturned by India who again showed what can be achieved by taking the game to Australia. Since the start of 2018, they have won 26 of their 31 T20Is with their only defeats coming against India and England who are considered the closest challengers for the title.
Meg Lanning is an impressive leader and outstanding batter, the former quality may well be tested at times during the tournament if the team hits any bumps along the way. If she is holding aloft the trophy at the MCG it will be a defining moment of her career. Tayla Vlaeminck will vie for the tag of the quickest bowler at the tournament and has the ability to ruffle opposition with the short ball. Alyssa Healy had two prolific seasons in 2018 and 2019 but hit the buffers in the T20I tri-series with five single-figure scores. Australia will hope her runs are being saved for when it really matters.
What would be a success at the tournament?
Nothing beyond victory. Few teams across any global event have quite carried the expectation that Australia have heading into this competition, with so much pinned on their progression at least to the final at the MCG where it is hoped a new crowd record for a female sporting event will be set. Lanning and Mott are balancing the need to embrace that pressure and keep a perspective on things, but it may yet be a factor other teams can exploit if things get tight.
Ishant Sharma set to fly to New Zealand after clearing fitness test
Fast bowler Ishant Sharma has cleared his fitness test at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru and is set to join the India squad in New Zealand for the two-Test series. ESPNcricinfo understands Sharma will fly out on Sunday and join the squad in Wellington, the venue of the first Test starting February 21.
Sharma had injured his right ankle during a Ranji Trophy game against defending champions Vidarbha nearly a month ago and had been looking doubtful for the Test series in New Zealand, having been advised six weeks’ rest with a grade three tear. He later went to the NCA for rehab and was named in the Test squad subject to clearing his fitness. Sharma will join Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Navdeep Saini in the pace attack. Sharma was also the leading wicket-taker the last time India toured New Zealand, in 2013-14, with 15 scalps from two Tests, and the only bowler to claim two five-fors in the series.
It was a roller coaster ride for me after the injury on my ankle on the 20th January but with the help of Ashish Kaushik I managed to pull it off! Scans were a little scary, but today I am happy that I am fit ! Thanks Ashish Kaushik! #recoverymode #recovery #postinjury pic.twitter.com/xwNpecc0Iz
— Ishant Sharma (@ImIshant) February 15, 2020
Sharma has been the leader of India’s pace attack in Tests in recent years, helping the team strengthen their grip at the top of the ICC rankings, and taking all 360 points in the ongoing World Test Championship. He has been India’s second-highest wicket-taker since the beginning of the 2017-18 season, only behind Shami, with 74 wickets from 19 matches at an average of 20.17 and strike rate of 43.7. He has played 96 Tests so far and could reach three digits in Australia later this year, subject to form and fitness.
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