And under prepared for the Asia Cup
It was Republic Day and Australia Day when India started off on its robust diet of Twenty20s Down Under - within barely six days they went on to play more T20 Internationals than they often do in a leap year, or for that matter, in a lesser year.
Australia may have fielded a lesser team but India was not to be hoodwinked by this show of lack of strength. Those three on top made sure India ended on top - Virat, Rohit and Dhawan scored 50s like they were 30s, five in three matches. Australia was blanked out, 3-0. India, returning home to what would've been a heroes' welcome, just that nobody, not even the press for once, had a clue of the flight timings.
Riding a big wave off Bondi beach, India ordered Sri Lanka for breakfast but only had them for lunch and dinner. An "English wicket" in the first match ensured Kohli sahb felt a little better about taking a cricket-break. 2-1 to India, but it felt more like a downright knockout. The last time India outplayed Sri Lanka was on Valentine's Day. All that newly found love for the shortest format appears to be short-lived - how do you explain an inexplicable 10-day break before their first match in the Asia Cup, against new rivals, Bangladesh.
Unlike Australia and Sri Lanka, the deshis believe in fielding full strength teams against India. What, only recently they beat Dhoni's super giants in a one-day series. And have still not forgotten that no-ball call in the 2015 World Cup. Most patriotic speeches start off with, "Rohit Sharma, just you wait, we will bowl a K-N-O-W Ball at you this time". New rivals, Bangladesh are followed by old ones, Pakistan - there's just so much love a bunch of cricketers can take in a few days. And even though Pakistan is yet to beat India in an ICC event, the belief that it's just round the corner, no matter how long that corner seems to be, continues to spur them on.
If the initial hostilities of the Asia Cup weren't enough, rumour has it that Sri Lanka could field a full strength team this time - "We're hurting and the hurt has helped our injuries heal fast" said a deadpan, Angelo Mathews, captain of the Sri Lankan team in exile.
To top friendly neighbours, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, India doesn't even know who they'll play on March 3 - a qualifier if you please. Most probably Afghanistan will qualify but that's not to underestimate Oman, UAE or Hong Kong which are all great places to holiday. So there you have it: India vs Afghanistan. Now, how do you play against a team that has an unbeatable back story - how do you play against almost mythical cricket heroes that demand their own Amar Chitra Katha.
The Asia Cup Finals on March 6 seem a long way away. To get there, India will have to navigate untold hostilities in the Shere Bangla National Stadium. From the Asia Cup, nine days later, to the World Twenty20; it does get bigger than this, but that's an altogether different World Cup. With so much T20 cricket under its belt, India should be playing T20 in their sleep, or at least while sipping on margaritas on a hammock.
First match against New Zealand, tough nuts to crack but their tattooed boss-bully-bouncer, Brendon McCullum would be parked elsewhere, retired in a beach shack far, far away. Next, not Pakistan again? Who still may not have beaten India in an ICC event - is the Asia Cup an ICC event? Or is it a BCCI event? Will confirm. (Confirmed, it's an Asian Cricket Council (ACC) event.)
Going by how cricket has been played off late, it could even be an ACC cement event. Either way, as the Indo-Pak match will be played in Dharamsala, there will be more about the picturesque setting than the old rivalry, and we should be grateful for that.
India's last league match will be against Australia, and if 3-0 doesn't prepare you for them, little will. But a little twist here, David Warner and Steve Smith will be back. Beating a full strength Aussie team in a world event on a slow, spinning track should be even sweeter.
To hell with the preparations, let the games begin. Unless the BCCI realises there's enough time between matches to squeeze in a mini IPL.
First published here