India's bio-bubble bursts

The business end of cricket's Twenty20 World Cup risks becoming a party without a host.

Timid India, who are hosting it in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) because their country is still recovering from a Covid-19 battering, are staring at an early exit from the tournament they were expected to dominate.

England captain Eoin Morgan was merely voicing the popular perception last week when he described his team and Australia as the "joint second favourites" in the event behind India.

After all, Virat Kohli's star-studded team had a clear head-start having experienced gulf conditions in the UAE leg of the Indian Premier League (IPL) before heading into the World Cup.

If the 10-wicket thrashing by arch-rivals Pakistan was already a nightmare, Indian fans' high expectations came crashing down after last Sunday's eight-wicket capitulation to New Zealand.

After that double whammy, India are only just mathematically alive in the tournament. They must win their remaining three group matches handsomely, against Afghanistan (which was played on Wednesday), Scotland today and Namibia on Monday, and hope other results go their way to make the last four.

It would also be a massive blow to the advertisers and broadcasters if cricket's most followed team prematurely crash out of the showpiece event.

Kohli has blamed his team's timidity for their "bizarre" defeat by New Zealand. But pundits believe the 2007 World Cup champions need to overhaul their approach to 20-overs cricket.

"India are playing 2010 cricket. The game has moved on," former England captain Michael Vaughan tweeted.

The six sixes they hit and the meagre two wickets they claimed from their first two matches underline the struggles of the team, who languished in fifth place in Group II sandwiched between Namibia and Scotland before their match against Afghanistan on Wednesday.

Pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah conceded that bio-bubble fatigue had crept in after being on the road for six months, but Indian fans have questioned why other players and other teams, who have been playing for a similar duration in difficult circumstances, haven't faced the same bubble fatigue.

"This wasn't a bio-bubble thing, it was actually a fake bubble created around the star-studded team which eventually burst," a netizen wrote.

India also lacked clarity over batting roles heading into the tournament.

Kohli dumped his original plan to open the innings and sent Lokesh Rahul, who has been in great form in the IPL, to partner Rohit Sharma at the top against Pakistan.

Rohit dropped to No. 3 against New Zealand with Ishan Kishan partnering Rahul in a desperate rejig that did not work. In both the matches, India's brittle top order could not milk the powerplay overs and, once forced into a damage control exercise, the late surge never came.

Former players have bemoaned India's lack of "mental toughness" and said the team must reflect on their performance.

Kohli, who will step down as India's 20-overs captain after the tournament, said the batsmen must shed their hesitation and take "calculated risks" to stay alive.

"There's a lot of cricket in this tournament and something that we all must look forward to," he said.

Angry India fans have slammed the team and national board chiefs while many blamed the cash-rich IPL for the hammerings by Pakistan and New Zealand.

"It's all about 'money', not 'country' #BanIPL," said Mr Gaurav Goel, a state spokesperson for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, on Twitter.

Others targeted Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) secretary Jay Shah and captain Kohli.

Kohli has failed to win a World Cup. India lost in the semi-finals at the 2019 World Cup as they did at the last T20 World Cup in 2016 under Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who is currently the team's mentor.

Kohli faces mounting questions about the team's handling of major tournaments and his own decision to step down from T20 captaincy days before the start of the World Cup.

"What was the hurry? It created some sort of confusion within the team, it seems," wrote a netizen.

A former cricketer told IANS that Indian players will have to decide which is more important for them: IPL or playing for the nation?

"They are smart enough and know how too much cricket can create problems," he said. "The BCCI can't just ignore the major tournaments for the sake of the league."

Reuters, AFP, Indo-Asian News Service

"India are playing 2010 cricket. The game has moved on." - Former England captain Michael Vaughan in a tweet


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