India coach Ravi Shastri, like Abou Ben Adhem, woke up just now from a deep dream of peace, and discovered that India needed a solid batsman in the middle order.

“In hindsight, yes, we did need a solid batsman out there in the middle order. But now, that’s something for the future,” Shastri told Indian Express. “That’s a position that was always giving us problems, but we just couldn’t nail it. Rahul was there but then Shikhar Dhawan got injured. Then Vijay Shankar was there, and he got injured. We just couldn’t control it.”

Yeah, well, India also needed a coach who would think of what was good for the team, not a yes-man one who would suck-up to the captain and former captain so he could keep his cushy job for as long as possible.

To compound the irony, he doesn’t get it even now. For pivotal roles, you don’t just shoe-horn someone in whether he fits or no. Rahul is not, by any stretch, a number four. (And as coach, captain, and selectors had made clear, he was in any case picked as cover for the openers). What does Shastri mean, “He was there”? And Shankar, in his brief career thus far, has never batted at four. He had played five ODIs before the World Cup — twice at five, once at six, twice at seven. “He was there”, it seems — the question is, why?

Cricketers and coaches have a habit of sneering at the “hindsight” of journalists. So:

Commentators and captain were alike eloquent about the right hander’s batting in that game and sure enough, he duly slotted into the position for the tournament proper – only, he looked as out of place as a band aid on a beauty contestant. His 26 off 42 in India’s first game against South Africa underscored the issue: Rahul is by skill and temperament an opener; you don’t shoehorn such players into a middle order berth because batting in the middle requires different skill sets, aptitude, temperament. FWIW, Rahul has been tried only thrice at number four – for a yield of 26 runs off 44 balls at an average of 13 and a strike rate of 59.

That clip is from a piece I wrote on June 13. Hindsight?

The irony is, pundits say this is the data-driven World Cup, cricket’s Moneyball moment. They say — and to a large extent, they are right — that never has so much deep data been available to teams and analysts for so little effort. For example, here is the data set for tomorrow’s final. This is what teams get; what TV producers use to feed commentators talking points, what media houses mine to get interesting talking points.

This dossier is 122 pages. The providers generate one of these for every single game. And weeks before the Cup began, we got even more comprehensive dossiers, stretching to over 300 pages, about every single player in every single participating team, as also deep dives into performances in various situations against various oppositions in varied conditions.

How is it then that the Indian (and Australian, among others) selectors, the coaching staff, the captain and leadership group, all with access to such depth and detail, fail to see the blindingly obvious?

Gavaskar, and VVS, also have things to say. First, Sunny:

“Let’s face, there have been a lot of baffling decisions over the last couple of years. Ambati Rayudu for example – he should have been brought here,” Gavaskar said. “Why and how can you explain to me you bring in a Mayank Agarwal? He hasn’t played a single ODI as yet. He just came before the Sri Lanka game, the last league game, (so) you want to him to make his debut in a semifinals or a final in case a slot was open? Why not bring in an Ambati Rayudu, who is your standby? Very disappointing to see what happened yesterday.”

And VVS:

“Yes, Vijay Shankar can contribute with the ball (too), but what about the experience the Indian middle order required?” Laxman said. “Who is that batsman at No. 4? It has been musical chairs: 13 players have been tried and tested, but they have not been given enough opportunities. In a semi-final ultimately, those kind of decisions will affect the team, which it did.”

So where were these guys all this while? On TV, Sunny and VVS were talking up this team as the best India has ever fielded — and that brings my grouse: When commentators (in their partial defence, they have no choice, given the nature of BCCI contracts) act as PR people rather than as clear-eyed analysts, they do the team — and more importantly the fans, in whom they rouse undue hope) — a disservice.


Amidst all the doom and gloom, there was one dazzling silver lining: Jasprit Bumrah, who on the biggest stage of them all staked a claim to be rated the best of them all. It is not that ‘Boom’ hasn’t given enough indications, these last couple of years, that he deserves all the praise coming his way — but still, this is the World Cup. And more pertinently this is where, unlike bilaterals, the best in the world compete against the same oppositions and under similar conditions, making for apples-to-apples comparisons.

Edges went screaming so fast to the slips that Kohli admitted that his hands were buzzing a good 15 minutes after holding on to a catch. How good must that feel? To grasp the potency of your strike bowler from the ache in your palms.

That clip is from a Siddarth Vaidyanathan piece celebrating the rise and rise of Jasprit Bumrah, for your reading pleasure.

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