India conquered the unthinkable by winning the World Cup in 1983. Since then, expectations of an entire population soar every time India get ready to participate in the big event. Sometimes they have been hot favourites, sometimes not so flaming. But the fact of the sad matter is that the World Cup continues to elude.
The same enthusiasm has returned to the sub-continent and as always, experts are saying that this is the best ODI team India has fielded in a World Cup. It is also being said that this team can recreate the magic of 1983. But is everything as rosy as the Indian cricket fanatics believe them to be?
A closer look at the World Cup bound Team India reveals some serious shortcomings in their modus operandi, which must be overcome if they are to win the ODI World Cup for the second time.
Huge Home Pressure:
Every time we become one of the hosts, expectations go through the roof. In the 1987 and 1996 World Cup editio
ns, India started as one of the title contenders but somehow they wilted under pressure in the semi-finals. When Dhoni’s men start their World Cup journey after 15 years in their own backyard, they are seen as the clear-cut favourites to clinch the title. Since Australia won’t be a force to reckon with this time around, India’s chances have received a shot in the arm.
Herein lies the problem for India. It may disappoint to play in front of empty stands, but it is even more difficult to match a billion people’s aspirations. A single bad day can upset passionate fans across the country, which will definitely add to the huge pressure on the team.
Remember 1996 Eden Gardens?
It’s not just the fans, but most cricket pundits also hold this Team India as the best bet to lay their hands on the title. On paper, the team looks balanced with an inspiring leader in MS Dhoni. The batting line-up is most destructive with Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Yusuf Pathan.
However, the bowling line-up, though a little less lustrous than the batters, has the likes of Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh and Ashish Nehra.
It will be a true test of character for the players in the middle to keep a cool cricketing head on their shoulders with all the frenzy around them.
Lack of consistency:
India is not a team which will win 7/8 matches on the trot even when they are in their best of forms. Though of-late, they have become a little more consistent, it is yet to be seen if they can emerge as a team which will march over the opposition in knock out stages and win the World Cup like the Australians have done since the last two editions.
Weak Pace Bowling:
Both the experts and fans believe that it’s the batting that can bail us out in every match. But the truth is that a team can’t win matches consistently without being strong in both batting and bowling departments. Zaheer Khan is the only pace bowler on whom you can put money on to take wickets and be economical during the World Cup.
The likes of Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, and S Sreesanth are not consistent and don’t have the class and skill to ride India home, especially on the sub-continental batting surfaces.
Like Zaheer, Harbhajan is the one-man-army in spin department. We don’t know what will happen if Harbhajan gets injured in the high-voltage tournament because his back-ups are not capable of shouldering the burden.
Offie R Ashwin has promised a lot but certainly does not have the experience to counter the heat that tournaments like World Cup generate. The third choice spinner of the side- Piyush Chawla- is certainly not a bowler who would create ripples in opposition ranks, and lacks consistency for the highest level. Moreover, he has not shown anything special in the recent past to generate any confidence whatsoever.
Lack of Good Fielders:
Though the overall standard in fielding has improved over the past four years, it is still not world class. Though Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli are good but they are no match for Yuvraj Singh and the current team composition is most likely to see only one or two of the three in a game. Apart from bowling, this is one aspect which can really go against them as the tournament progresses. Catches win matches and this is where we are in a bit of a soup.
The demon called ‘injury’ has already reared its head and started taking a toll on India. Praveen Kumar has been ruled out. We are still not sure how Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir can perform immediately after coming from injuries. And talking of injuries, you can never be sure with pace duo of Ashish Nehra and Munaf Patel.
Less Team Building Time:
The final eleven from the 15-member World Cup squad have not played as a group for a while. Sachin Tendulkar made himself unavailable for most part of the last year, never making a settled pair with Sehwag.
Last year’s story has been that one or other of the top batsmen remained injured or pulled out of the tournament. That prevented India from forming a settled batting-order which would define everyone’s role like what Australia had in their hay-days. Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh or Suresh Raina don’t know where they will bat during the World Cup once Sachin, Sehwag and Gambhir come into the playing XI. This can surely disturb India’s plan when they start their World Cup campaign.
There was a time when MS Dhoni used to be a vital cog who held the team’s lower-order together with his sensible batting. But a dip in his form saw India breaking down under pressure in some recent matches.
With these issues to wrestle with before the mega-event, coach Gary Kirsten, skipper MSD as well as the rest of Team India will surely be working for a quick fix.
Though my heart continues to believe that my Team India will surely win the Cup this time, my head contradicts those feelings. But I will be the happiest person in the world if I am proved wrong by Dhoni & Co!
(The views expressed by the author are personal)