By Sheetal Paknikar Opening Doorz Editorial | May 26, 2021

ICC World Test Championship

From August 01, 2019, with the England-Australia Ashes Series, the ICC formally announced the ‘First World Test Championship’ involving the top Nine Test Cricket Playing Nations. This Competition of over two years is now fittingly culminating with the Final between the top two ranked teams—India and New Zealand. This is in line with the ICCs goal of having one pinnacle tournament for each of the three formats of International Cricket.

Team India will be in England to play this much-awaited final from June 18-22 as the World’s Top-Ranked Test Team. They play Second Ranked New Zealand, who, arguably, continues to be mysteriously underrated even as a top-ranked ICC Team themselves. As percentage performers, New Zealand always seems to fancy putting it across the Indians whenever they have met in important fixtures.

So how does it look: will the most successful and all-time great Ravi Shastri-Virat Kohli Partnership finally get us an ICC Trophy?

My family and friends, necessarily well-wishers often feel like wrenching my neck at my Nostradamus predictions at what will happen to team India in the last four important ICC tournaments. To be fair, I surprise myself as well, at the number of times I have been able to predict accurately. So is this a sixth sense, just plain fluke, a sensible analytical ability or should I feel good and blessed that it is a matter of spotting common patterns that sports psychologists use to help change mindsets? I don’t know.   

Crunch match performances since 2014

Before we get into this hypothetical predictive analysis, let us look at how we have fared in the crunch matches since 2014. Team India, both men and women, have had a relatively consistent run in matches in the league stages. However, we have consistently missed the trick in the business end of ICC Tournaments in the last few years.

Instance 1: India v/s SL, ICC T20 World Cup Final 2014 Lost
Instance 2: India v/s Aus, ICC World Cup Semi-Final 2015 Lost
Instance 3: India v/s WI, ICC T20 World Cup Semi-Finals 2016 Lost
Instance 4: India v/s Pakistan, ICC Champions Trophy Final 2017 Lost
Instance 5: India v/s Eng, Women’s ICC World Cup Final 2017 Lost
Instance 6: India v/s Eng, Women’s ICC T20 World Cup Semi-Finals 2018 Lost
Instance 7: India v/s NZ, ICC World Cup Semi-Finals 2019 Lost
Instance 8: India v/s Aus, Women’s ICC T20 World Cup Final 2020 Lost

ICC World Test Championship
Will Team India triumph against the much-fancied New Zealand side this summer in England?

As passionate cricket enthusiasts, all of us have different theories and judgements to eventually accept team failures in our stride. In the past, we fans have forced ourselves to move on in disappointment, with the hope and a silent prayer that professionally run team managements must surely be sitting down to understand and analyse the root cause of the mistakes. 

As fans, are we justified to expect our celebrated coach to brush off any criticism by nonchalantly thundering that This is arguably the ‘All-Time Best’ Indian Cricket Team to have ever represented the country (when we win ) and failures are part of the sport and should be seen in perspective (when we lose )!

Incredible victories under Sourav Ganguly

In perspective, post the turn of the Millenium, the Men’s Cricket Team (beginning with Sourav Ganguly’s much-celebrated attitudinal change in approaching the sport with aggressive intent) has had incredible victories. At times persevering with their backs to the wall, sometimes in near impossible must-win games as well. Needless to say, the sheer thrill of winning from these situations has always been inspirational and a lesson for those of us willing to face and convert the proverbial challenges into opportunities.

Yet, as an avid cricket watcher of over 40 years, from the golden ages of the late seventies, as we progressed from the underdog & dark horse tag to the favourites, one thing hasn’t changed: I still have the familiar nervous gut when we make it to the semi-finals and finals of ICC Tournaments.

Team India will either…

  1. Approach the WTC game, in the coach/captain’s often matter-of-fact tone, ‘as just another match!’
  2. Give exaggerated respect to the opposition saying NZ is a great team
  3. Come up with a surprise and bizarre team selection at the last minute to justify the horses for courses/workload management/bench strength/ rotation policy
  4. And, misread the pitch, conditions and lose those important moments in sessions or have one bad session!

So, what is the big deal?

The deal is that just as ordinary mortals struggle with clarity in crunch situations, it is the simplicity of the complex human mind that can play mischief with the mindset of established sports stars as well.

Will the law of averages help Team India

In professional sport, the stakes are high. Celebrated support staff like the coaches and seniors of every team have to necessarily pinpoint and identify the pattern of losses, to work towards putting it across familiar situations that top teams are bound to face regularly. And years on end, if a Champion team like India, continue to lose in those important moments in ICC SFs / Finals, then we would have identified and accepted the problem on hand. Question is, do we have a problem or is it just our fertile imagination?

I have always wondered if the soul of a true ‘number one’ in a team sport necessarily reflects the rankings and statistical records. Or does a team necessarily excel, whose management has shrewd tacticians and ‘devil-may-care’ attitude? 

Here’s hoping that the law of averages catches up with Team India to triumph in England this time, in ICC’s First World Test Championship 2021, putting to rest my stupid gut, predictive analysis and this Nostradamus nonsense.

(Sheetal Paknikar, a passionate cricket and sports buff, is a reluctant writer who occasionally writes to empty his head, after years of watching and analysing international sport. He is also the Founder, MD & CEO of Seven Twenty Ten Network, a Media & Sports Consulting Organisation, based in Mumbai, India).

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