From 20 to 50 in 10 days: Why Team India is underprepared
The Indian Premier League (IPL) is finally done, and like all big tournaments, it leaves behind memories... and like all IPL-related memories, these last approximately 24 hours.
This time, it’s not just because Twenty20 cricket generally is forgettable, but also because we need to switch modes and start obsessing about Team India and their Champions Trophy defence starting 1 June in England instead.
The Champions Trophy is pretty much the opposite of the IPL in terms of quality and format.
The IPL is so long it allows teams to make up for mistakes: For example, the Pune team that played the final on Sunday lost four of its first five matches. The Champions Trophy will be less forgiving—one strike and you’ll be on shaky ground, two strikes and you’ll practically be out.
There’s also a sharp rise in quality and intensity. Only the top eight teams in the world take part in the Champions Trophy, and unlike most IPL franchises, these teams don’t have “weak links”, so there won’t be any easy matches. India’s three group matches are against Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa—which is going to be a lot of fun, but also nerve-wracking.
Which is why it’s kind of sad that India are going into their title defence in the worst shape possible.
First, they have little time to adjust from one format to the other. Batsmen who have spent the last month and a half swinging and—more often than not—missing, now need to plan for 50 overs instead of 20. Second, India are coming off a long home season, so they will be playing in conditions they’ve not been exposed to in a long time. Will they be able to make these adjustments in such a short time?
There will be those who argue that this is exactly how things were four years ago when India won the tournament (an 11-day gap between the end of the IPL and the start of the Champions Trophy then, versus a 10-day gap between the tournaments now).
The big difference, however, is the form of India’s top six batsmen.
Back in 2013, five of India’s top six were among the 10 highest run scorers in the IPL. Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Dinesh Karthik had all scored over 500 runs, while M.S. Dhoni was less than 40 runs short of that mark. The only top-order batsman outside the top 10 was Shikhar Dhawan.
In contrast, none of the batsmen in the Champions Trophy got to the 500-run mark in the IPL this season. Everyone other than Dhawan (Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Dhoni) has had either an average or below-average IPL.
The bowlers will feel better—Bhuvaneshwar Kumar finished with the most number of wickets, Umesh Yadav was consistently quick and Jasprit Bumrah established himself as one of the best bowlers in the last overs. But as Mumbai Indians bowling coach Shane Bond said, there’s a significant difference between bowling four overs a game and 10.
“It is important that it is not just your skills that are up to speed, you need to have had miles in the legs as well,” he said recently.
Of course, it’s not like there’s no hope. If enough players lift their game on the day, India can be an unstoppable force in One Day Internationals (ODIs). After all, Kohli’s men rank high in both pedigree and passion. It’s in terms of preparation that they’re struggling.
Deepak Narayanan, a journalist for nearly 20 years, now runs an events space, The 248 Collective, in Goa. He tweets at @deepakyen