When the World Cup kicked off, the teams got rated by their star value and now that France and Croatia are in the final, the coaches and pundits have realised that the overall strength of the squad should matter more than the odd superstar.
That’s how India’s cricket captain Virat Kohli wants his team to be, not known by its big guns, but by all-round might. Kohli has got it right, making unexpected changes in the XI to win the three-match T20 series 2-1.
Football is still the flavour of the season. In India there are pockets where fans love Brazil and Argentina, partly because of Neymar and Lionel Messi, and partly due to the pleasing Latin American style. Not many may have thought much of Portugal but they wanted the team to go far so that they could watch Cristiano Ronaldo.
The stars, used to rich club culture with other strong-footed guys in the support cast, looked forlorn in the World Cup as they went out one after another. The stars as well as their teams have realised that overdependence is not the right way. This is where strategy comes into play.
Croatia came through two tie-breakers on their way to the penultimate round. Then they had to go through an extended semifinal to make the final. They made quite an impression, taking rapid strides as the tournament progressed and it did not surprise that they are in the final. A tiny East European country with a long coastline on the Adriatic Sea with a population of some four million, which is a shade less than Pune and a little more than Surat.
Croatia are the 13th team figure in a World Cup final, the first freshers to do so after Spain in 2010. It is not that they are a surprise package.Twenty years ago they made the semifinals, seven years after they became independent, in the year France won the Cup at home. After that they have had a forgettable run, failing to get past the group stage.
The Croats were determined to prove a point against England. They showed character and like in all their knockout games, came from a goal behind to win. They played a lot of tough football over the week and showed that they are still left with some fuel even after beating England 2-1.
France also had a match on their hands as Belgium had been the most impressive side in the group stage. Some might feel that the French have killed the game with their tactics of slowing down the game like Spain did eight years ago, but the strategy paid off.
Kohli talks mostly of making a good team rather than promoting individuals. Shuffling players in the batting order is his pet scheme and he is prepared to sacrifice his own position to build a team. Before the tour began in Ireland, Kohli said he would fiddle with the middle order but he ended up shuffling his bowlers. For the crucial series-deciding match, he brought in a debutant Deepak Chahar and Siddarth Kaul for Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Kuldeep Yadav.
As long as someone like Rohit Sharma, the man of the third match as well as the series for his third T20 hundred, or Lokesh Rahul can bat the way they are doing, Kohli can go around making experiments and testing the bench strength.
(The writer is a veteran commentator and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)