Can India show its ruthless side and cleansweep Sri Lanka?

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India has been one of the most formidable teams in bilateral series, both home and away. The Men in Blue have won 10 of the 16 ODI rubbers since the 2019 World Cup and didn’t lose a single T20 series of the 10 they played in 2022. And on Thursday, courtesy a four-wicket win, they took an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series as India head to Thiruvananthapuram with a good chance to make a cleansweep against Sri Lanka.

However, ICC tournaments continue to be their Achilles’ heel. They haven’t been able to win one since the 2013 Champions Trophy. An explanation for this dichotomy could be India’s inability to dominate a series from start to finish. Out of the 10 ODI series wins since the last World Cup, six have come with a 2-1 margin, with the four whitewashes being against Zimbabwe and West Indies.

In T20Is in 2022, four of the 10 T20I series wins came with a 2-1 margin. In a five-match series against West Indies, India won 4-1 after losing the second game. Sri Lanka and West Indies were whitewashed 3-0.

When it comes to ICC tournaments, the team often looks unstoppable in the group stages before going down in crunch matches.

Why does a team that displays such enviable consistency for the most part fail in realising its ICC trophy ambitions?

Lack of ruthlessness

Be it the Ravi Shastri -Virat Kohli combination or the Rahul Dravid- Rohit Sharma pairing, India always struggles to whitewash a side which may point to a lack of ruthlessness. The opposition often levels the series at 1-1 or wins the final game after India has secured the series. The argument that making a whole lot of changes to the side may be a reason doesn’t hold much water as with the big player pool, the team doesn’t isn’t weakened whoever is included. The choice is between players of roughly equal ability.

Indian cricketers huddle with their captain Virat Kohli during the second one-day international cricket match between India and Sri Lanka in Kolkata, India, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)

In the heyday of Indian white-ball cricket from 2007-2013 under MS Dhoni, the team used to get on a roll when they started to win. The 2013 Champions Trophy is an apt example where India won all five games to lift the trophy. Subsequently, losing an odd game in a series every now and then made them a good bilateral side but their results in ICC tournaments have gone down.

In the 2022 T20 World Cup, the team won four out of six games, which may result in two bilateral series wins. However, the team could not go beyond the semifinals, where they were soundly thrashed by England.

Two different approaches

The team follows an aggressive template in bilateral series, but when the pressure is on in ICC tournaments, the players go into their shells. In the first ODI against Sri Lanka in Guwahati, India scored 373 in 50 overs, playing attacking cricket from start to finish. Compare it to the insipid powerplay batting during the T20 World Cup Down Under, where the team often struggled to score a run a ball in the first six overs.

Cricket fans cheer for their respective teams during the second one-day international cricket match between India and Sri Lanka in Kolkata, India, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)

Before that tournament, Dravid and Rohit boasted about the talent the team has and how they will continue to attack throughout the innings. However, the ball swung a bit in Australian conditions and the openers Rohit and KL Rahul became conservative, in stark contrast to what Alex Hales and Jos Buttler did to India in the knockout game.

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Too many players and captains

India has used eight captains since Kohli stepped down. Players also kept coming in and going out. For instance, Shahbaz Ahmed and Kuldeep Sen made their ODI debuts against Bangladesh, but were dropped from the second match of that series and are out of the squad against Sri Lanka.

India was led by Shikar Dhawan in New Zealand for the three-match ODI series. Now Dhawan has been dropped from the ODI squad. Different captains adhere to different approaches and different styles of leadership as well as constant chopping and changing unsettles the side.

The team seems to change the playing eleven regardless of the result of the previous match. It results in new players not getting enough chances to prove their mettle or adjusting to their role in the team, which could reap dividends in an ICC tournament.

Lack of risk-taking ability

In bilateral series, there’s often a chance of a comeback after an early loss, so the team can learn from its mistakes. This luxury is not afforded in knockout matches in ICC events, where a wrong call can bring the curtain down on India’s campaign.

India’s Umran Malik, celebrates the wicket of Sri Lanka’s Wanindu Hasaranga de Silva during the second one-day international cricket match between India and Sri Lanka in Kolkata, India, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)

The selection of two finger-spinners in Australia despite numbers suggesting that leg-spinners have done well there was one such call the management made. They went with the reliable Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel instead of leggies Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravi Bishnoi.

Not enough multinational tournaments

Due to various reasons, multi-national tournaments haven’t been part of the ICC calendar anymore. The last time India played a tri-nation series was back in 2015 against Australia and England.

These multinational tournaments may not be a match in terms of the level of pressure the team faces in ICC events but it gives experience to the players in knockout-match situations.

At last year’s Asia Cup, the team was knocked out in the Super 4 round. When a few catches were dropped by youngsters at crunch moments, the reaction of the skipper betrayed the lack of composure the team has in pressure situations.

For a country that boasts about its depth of talent and the richest franchise league, 2-1 wins in bilateral white-ball series can’t be considered a benchmark for success when there are aspirations of repeating what the great Australian and West Indies sides of the past achieved.


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