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No second chances for beaten India

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Cricket World Cup

No second chances for beaten India

Archive Photo: India's captain Virat Kohli bats in the nets during a practice session ahead of their first test cricket match against South Africa Photo: India's captain Virat Kohli bats in the nets during a practice session ahead of their first test cricket match against South Africa

Sore loser Virat Kohli demanded a tournament overhaul after India’s 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup semifinal exit… except, he didn’t really.

To understand why professional athletes sometimes say stupid things, you have to know how media conferences work.

Back in February 2005 England lost a one-day international cricket match against South Africa at Newlands. I remember joining the rest of the hacks in the post-match media conference, and immediately getting my “Welcome To Sports Journalism” moment. England’s captain, Michael Vaughan (remember him?) came out of to face the gathered newshounds, having just gone out for a six-ball duck in a 100-odd-run defeat. The first question he was asked was: “Michael, was that England’s worst performance so far under your captaincy?”

What was the guy supposed to say? “Nah, we’ve been much worse than that in the past”?

As it happened, he went with a non-committal shrug and a muted response of: “I don’t know… Maybe.” The next day’s headlines in the English press were, inevitably: “Vaughan’s England beaten in ‘worst-ever performance’”.

So light a candle for Indian captain Virat Kohli. This week, Kohli guided India to a shock defeat to New Zealand in the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup semifinal – and his post-match comments made him sound like a colossally sore loser.

Chasing 240 to win against New Zealand, India were three wickets down for just five runs within the first three overs. The first 10 overs saw India floundering at 24 for 4. It was a horrible start, and they never recovered, ultimately falling to an 18-run defeat.

In the post-match media conference, Kohli was first asked how he felt about the result. “Of course very disappointed,” he replied. “We played outstanding cricket […] throughout this tournament, and to just go out on the basis of just 45 minutes of bad cricket is saddening. It breaks your heart, because you’ve worked so hard throughout the tournament to build momentum, you finish number one in the table, and then a spell of bad cricket and you’re out of the tournament completely. But you have to accept it.”

And you do. That’s how the knockout stage of a sports tournament works: you play well, you win, you progress; you play badly, you lose, you go out. No do-overs. It’s really that simple. That’s the beauty – and the agony – of knockout sports.

But then came the sneaky follow-up question. Kohli was then asked whether he would like to see future ICC Cricket World Cup tournaments follow the model of the Indian Premier League, in which teams who finish top in the Group Stage get a second chance to reach the final if they lose their first play off match.

Maybe,” Kohli shrugged. “If topping the table means anything. I think these things can come into consideration, looking at the magnitude of this tournament. That is a really valid point. You never know when that is going to be implemented.”

The answer to that is hopefully never, but probably right away. Remember, in 2007 India lost two of their first-round World Cup group matches, and were knocked out – infamously leaving the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup without its biggest TV audience. In a desperate attempt to give them as many second chances as possible, the ICC revamped the tournament and gave us the flawed-but-fine format we have today.

And hey, those lifelines and second chances worked for some teams. England and New Zealand each lost three times on their way to reaching the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup final. The difference between New Zealand and India (and between England and Australia, in the other semifinal) is that New Zealand won when it mattered, and India didn’t.

Despite the quotes you may have read, Virat Kohli knows that and accepts it.

The Indian media – who’ll keep digging for quotes and demanding changes until their team win the ICC Cricket World Cup again – need to accept it too.DM

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