Lessons from France and Croatia for Virat Kohli and his men

There are lessons for the Indian cricket team from the World Cup football final. France underlined one of the rules of batsmanship that the basis of attack is defence. This is the essence of red ball cricket where without a polished defensive technique, it is difficult if not impossible to build a long innings, or indeed a career. Coaches traditionally emphasized this, but somewhere between the first ball bowled in One-Day Internationals and the most recent bowled in T20 cricket, that lesson has been mislaid.
But the more important lesson came from Croatia, which is not surprising since you often learn more from losing teams. The lesson is this: Make form count. When the advantage is on your side however briefly ensure that goals or runs are scored or wickets taken. A good run does not last forever.
Croatia, especially in the first half, and then sporadically through the match, enjoyed periods of ascendancy. Successful teams recognise when the moment is theirs, and grab it by the scruff of the neck. Suddenly there is a magical pass, an uninterrupted run by a forward or a speedy creation of space. And if the goal is not scored then, the advantage may be taken away. The gods of sport reward those with the daring and understanding to make the most of an advantage, momentary or extended.
Often it helps a team come together, as France did just before (and after) the Pogba goal. Without that assurance, Mbappe might not have scored either. Self-assurance sees a player influence a game situation. France seized the moments, Croatia stumbled.

Seizing the moment

If India are to succeed in England, their batsmen must realise the importance of seizing the moment. In the second one-dayer (this is being written before the third), for instance, the openers seemed to have worked it out till they threw it away. First Rohit Sharma had a rush of blood, then Shikhar Dhawan, who was beginning to think this was his day, threw it away too. The effect on the team was disastrous.
In sport, as in life, there will be days when things don’t go well, when whatever you do fails, when your best shots are fielded easily, when your best ball is mis-hit into the crowd for a six. When the opposite happens, when everything comes together so easily that even poor shots fetch boundaries and bad deliveries pick up wickets, say a silent prayer and make it count. It might be an exaggeration to say that all competition is preparation for the bad day, the bad phase, but the ability to recognize the good is important, and the stubborness to take advantage is a crucial part of success.
Part of Rahul Dravid’s greatness lay in his ability to recognize the moments for what they were, to ensure that the best were taken advantage of, and the worst were ridden out. He knew, as did Sachin Tendulkar in the latter part of his career, that a less-than-perfect century in the team cause was superior to a classy 25 that should have gone further but didn’t owing to the batsman’s fault.
Over five days of a Test match, and five Tests, such phases will come and go for both teams in England. Joe Root, who hadn’t been having great success of late, recognized his moment, and worked his way to a century in the second ODI. It wasn’t spectacular, it wasn’t particularly creative, but it had character and professionalism. When India have won series in England, these two elements have dominated. The decision to bat first in Headingley in 2002 was not only rewarded with an innings win, it set in motion the mental and physical processes that led to India becoming the No. 1 Test nation.
Great bowlers have gone wicketless while focusing on the elements that made them great in the first place; great batsmen have struggled despite not doing anything different.
That is the nature of sport. You get run out when you are striking well, an umpiring (and DRS) decision goes against you the route to success is often paved with luck. Which is why when you are in good nick and everything is going in your favour, it is important not to do anything silly and jinx the form. In the longer format, cussedness is sometimes more rewarding than flamboyance.
In team sports, there is too the matter of making up for a colleague’s loss of form. If a bowler is struggling, the rest have greater responsibility. Likewise when a batsman struggles. Then the ones in form have to make up for the loss of runs. Each individual in the team plays for ten others too.
The World Cup showed that you don’t have to be a great team to be successful. Sometimes curbing your natural instincts is just as important. As France showed, and talented Indian teams failed to on the two earlier tours to England. These are important lessons for Virat Kohli and his men.