India have managed to trip towards the end of their journey in ICC tournaments quite a few times recently.
What constitutes a world-beating team? A series of victories irrespective of conditions? Years of domination like the Windies of the 1970s and the Australians of the 2000s? A bunch of super talented individuals who uplift the team? If any of these form the criteria, we'd be raving over a bilateral series or an Adam Gilchrist special in Test cricket when talking of the Aussies of the 2000s.
Rather, what sticks in memory is a triumph in a world tournament where all countries are participating and a trophy to commemorate the occasion. Australia did it thrice in succession since 1999 and we celebrate the 2000s as Australia's although they coped three major Test series losses in that decade - a 2-1 series loss to India in India after appearing dominant through the series, conceding the Ashes to England in 2005 and losing to Graeme Smith's South Africa at home.
A glance at the 2010s and the most successful team that comes to mind is India. It doesn't take a panel of judges to analyse and find that India dominated cricket in the 2010s. They were bullish in ODIs, developed their Test side and started winning overseas. This is particularly true in the last few years with the talent pipeline filled with players from the Indian T20 League.
Why then has greatness eluded the Indians? They did win the 2011 World Cup, 2013 Champions Trophy and the 2018 under-19 World Cup. That's three trophies in a decade and yet the general consensus is that India struggle when it matters.
Remember MS Dhoni's run-out in the 2019 World Cup semi-finals? Remember Mohammad Amir's spell in the 2017 Champions Trophy finals? Remember West Indies' incredible showing in the 2016 World T20 semi-finals?
Either a team or an individual has stepped up to deny India of its greatness in this decade. We can very equate greatness to success in major tournaments and it is here that this Indian team has stumbled a bit in recent times. While labelling them chokers would be injustice, India do seem to have some kind of hoodoo in major ICC trophies.
Despite their bullish record in bilaterals, Indian teams - across the senior men's side, women's team and the under-19 team - have faltered way too many times in the last few years.
The senior men's side lost the 2014 World T20 finals to Sri Lanka in Dhaka after appearing to be the side to beat in the group stages. In the 2015 World Cup in Australia - New Zealand, India breezed through the group stages with big wins against South Africa and Pakistan, but came apart in the semi-finals against hosts Australia to bow out of the tournament.
In the 2016 World T20 semi-finals, India posted a mammoth 192 batting first only to go on and lose the game to the Windies, who went on to be eventual champions. In the same year, the under-19 World Cup saw them perform brilliantly before falling at the final hurdle, losing the finals to West Indies.
In 2017, the Champions Trophy saw India at their very best as they bulldozed opponent sides but in the finals, they collapsed like a heap of cards against arch-rivals Pakistan, a loss that has still not been fully accepted by fans in the country. The 2019 World Cup also saw India stumble in a big game - the semi-finals against New Zealand where they failed to chase down a modest total.
The final nail in the coffin was laid at Potchefstroom on Sunday as the Bangladesh under-19 side smashed their Indian counterparts in the finals to grab the title. Unbeaten in World Cups since the 2016 tournament, India's under-19 side were bowled out for 177 - the first time that happened in the last 13 games - before Bangladesh chased down the target with minor hiccups along the way.
List of games India lost in the ICC events since 2014:
- 2014 - World T20 - Lost in finals
- 2015 - World Cup - Lost in semi-finals
- 2016 - World T20 - Lost in semi-finals
- 2016 - U-19 World Cup - Lost in finals
- 2017 - Champions Trophy - Lost in finals
- 2019 - World Cup - Lost in semi-finals
- 2020 - U-19 World Cup - Lost in finals
India sure seem to have a problem in big tournaments. While it's still far off to reach South Africa levels, the sub-continental side will need a trophy in their kitty soon enough to get over this seemingly psychological mental block.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Dibyangshu Sarkar