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A Collective Hunger: Past failures and personal setbacks spur Rohit & Co

Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammad Shami were part of both the teams that got knocked out in the semi-finals in Australia and England

New Delhi: Brilliant, Exhilarating, Fabulous… the accolades continue to flow in the aftermath of India’s stupendous display in the 13th edition of the World Cup. The brand of cricket that Rohit Sharma & Co have displayed has been so good that it is being considered as India’s best in a one-day international tournament, even better than their highs of 1983 and 2011 when they went on to don the mantle of world champions. Their approach in this tournament has been quite refreshing and it has ranked high on skill, strategy, and self-belief. But the most important aspect has been the team’s hunger for success. For some players, it is driven by the hurt of past failures, for others, it is about reinventing themselves but all are bound by a fierce determination to conquer the peak together.

Let’s begin with those who have enacted the lead roles in India’s 10-match winning streak, their desire to succeed is spurred by the disappointment of failure they faced in 2015 and 2019. Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammad Shami were part of both the teams that got knocked out in the semi-finals in Australia and England. Redemption is also writ large on the shoulders of KL Rahul, Jasprit Bumrah, and Kuldeep Yadav who were part of the Kohli-led team that crashed to an 18-run defeat to New Zealand at Old Trafford, Manchester, four years ago.


There are also been some personal scores to settle. For Rohit Sharma, the exclusion from the 2011 World Cup squad still rankles. For Rahul, Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav, and Shreyas Iyer it is a strong rebuttal to all those who doubted their abilities to come good again after a long absence from cricket due to injuries.

Shami’s ‘Rhythm Divine’


For Shami, it was a case of so near yet so far. He was in his ‘rhythm of his life’ and was desperate for game time but the team management’s decision to bench him to maintain team balance meant Ravichandran Ashwin and Shardul Thakur were the preferred options in the first four matches. Ashwin played only the opener against Australia while Thakur, who played the next three matches against Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh returned overall figures of 2 wickets from 17 overs.

Shami, however, could not be kept out for long and soon the stars aligned for him. And how! A freak ankle injury in the Bangladesh game ruled out all-rounder Hardik Pandya forcing the Indian think-tank to course correct. Shami and Suryakumar Yadav were drafted in place of Thakur and Pandya. Shami paid to rest any talk of his future selection immediately by picking a five-wicket haul in his first match against New Zealand.

If Bumrah is the spearhead, Shami has proved to be the nuke-head, bombing the opposition with his precise thunderbolts. His seam position and release have become part of cricketing folklore now. Well, there’s more: In the six matches, that he has played he has picked up a wicket in his first over and he is the first Indian bowler to pick 50 wickets in World Cup history, 23 of them have come in 6 matches of this tournament.

Kohli, one of a kind

Virat Kohli

Then there is Virat Kohli. The tributes paid by his teammates on his 35th birthday sums it all and explains why he is the leading run-getter of this tournament with 711 under his belt – no batter in previous World Cups has scored that many.

Shubman Gill: “His dedication and love for the game are unmatched. I haven’t witnessed anyone with such hunger and passion.”
Jasprit Bumrah: “The fire and commitment to the game, even after playing for a long time, haven’t diminished. It only continues to rise. It’s something I can learn from, and I’m sure everyone watching the game can learn a lot too.”
Hardik Pandya: “He embodies the fitness culture and camaraderie. His constant presence in the game is inspiring not just for us but also for millions of fans.”
R Ashwin: “He’s changed the DNA of thinking around Indian cricket. How one batsman needs to perceive it. How one batter needs to prepare for a game,” Ravichandran Ashwin said.
Coach Rahul Dravid: “Virat is a cricket legend, especially in the ODI format. His performances across all formats have set a benchmark for his generation, particularly in the way he finishes games and maintains a high standard over the years.”

Players, and coaches… all chase the same dream

Indian coach Rahul Dravid during a practice session

Another reason for the team’s high hunger quotient is that this is the last chance for the leading lights Rohit Sharma, Kohli, Jadeja, and Shami, all in their mid-thirties, to realise a rare dream — of winning an ODI World Cup in front of their home fans. Kohli already knows how it feels having been part of the 2011 World Cup winning team along with Ashwin and the incentive for him is to become the first player to have won a World Cup at home twice.

The coaching staff too nurse similar ambitions. As a player Dravid is an all-time batting great but hasn’t won a World Cup despite featuring in three editions – 1999, 2003, and 2007. His last appearance ended in agony when the Dravid-led team crashed out at the group stage inviting the ire of a nation that led to players being abused and their houses stoned. Success in this tournament will be a soothing balm to the World Cup disappointments that he had to endure as a player.

Bowling coach Paras Mhambrey and batting coach Vikram Rathour too have their reasons to come good. Both were among the top players in the domestic circuit during their playing days but they couldn’t translate that success into the international arena. Pacer Mhambrey, who has nearly 300 wickets in first-class cricket for Mumbai played 2 Tests and 3 ODIs while Rathour who scored over 11,000 runs for Punjab represented the country in 6 Tests and 7 ODIs.

The 51-year-old Mhambrey, mentored by England pace legend Frank ‘Typhoon’ Tyson in his early days, had been a doughty player for Mumbai, opening the attack and standing tall with the bat down the order. He had the distinction of leading Mumbai to a Ranji Trophy title in 2003 before retiring from all cricket. His transition from player to coach was quick as he completed the Level 3 diploma from the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore and soon began to make an impact guiding domestic teams Bengal and Vidarbha Ranji Trophy.

Shami circling his head and pointing to the dressing room after every five-wicket haul in this tournament is an acknowledgment by the bowler to the baldheaded Mhambrey for playing a role in his success.

Both Mhambrey and Rathour may not have made an impact as players while donning the Indian jersey but they are certainly creating an impression as coaches of this Indian team.
Another interesting trivia that binds the coaching trio is that all three made their Test debut against England in 1996. Mhambrey and Rathour made their debuts in the first Test of the series at Birmingham, which India lost by 8 wickets. The defeat led to big changes in the batting order for the second Test at Lord’s and in came two gentlemen who were to change the face of Indian cricket – Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid.

Dravid, Mhambrey, and Rathour realized their dream of playing for India 27 years ago, they are together once again chasing another dream – of winning the World Cup for India as coaches.

Rohit sets template for ‘fearless cricket’

Rohit Sharma

The whole enterprise has undoubtedly been helmed by the captain. Rohit Sharma has carried the flair of batting into his captaincy which the players have begun to relish. The Mumbai maestro has the backing of the players because they know their captain will back them even if they fail. It has led to players expressing themselves freely and playing ‘fearless cricket’. Rohit himself leads from the front providing flying starts which not only upset the opposition’s bowling plans but in turn injects a huge dose of confidence in the Indian batting unit allowing the batsmen to follow to settle in nicely.

Plan B gets activated as soon as Rohit gets out with Kohli stepping up and anchoring the ship, while the likes of Shreyas, and Rahul bat around him. All of it has worked out beautifully with four Indian batsmen in the top 15 – Kohli (711 runs, 3 centuries), Rohit (550 runs, 1 century), Iyer (526, 2 centuries), Rahul (386 runs, 1 century). Gill also had a decent run (352 runs) and if not for the two matches he missed due to fever, he would have been ranked higher.

The bowlers too have flourished in this environment with Shami leading the way (23 wickets) and his three companions Bumrah (18 wickets), Jadeja (16 wickets), Kuldeep (15 wickets) — in the top 15. Mohammed Siraj is also not far behind with 13 wickets in his bag.

The bonding between the players has also been another highlight that has contributed to the success. Fielding coach T Dilip awarding a fielding medal at the end of every match is a fantastic exercise in team bonding too. The camaraderie and leg-pulling that prevails when Dilip announces the award is another redeeming feature of the team’s journey to the top.

Irrespective of what happens in Ahmedabad on Sunday, this Indian team has given a lot of reasons to cheer, and let’s hope that they are not judged by how they perform in the final.