Are Mahi’s men better than Azzu’s boys?

Updated: Dec 29, 2010, 00:00 AM IST

Vaibhav Arora

With the 2011 cricket World Cup fast approaching, frantic debates about whether the present Indian outfit is good enough to clinch the elusive trophy have also started doing the rounds.

Although Indians will have the advantage of a hysterically cheering home crowd, the pressure of a billion expectations on their shoulders will not make their job any easier. And, with the Indians known to crumble easily under pressure, even the most optimistic supporters are keeping their fingers crossed.

Even the 1996 World Cup, which was also held in the subcontinent, had promised a lot with numerous experts predicting a victory for Mohammad Azharuddin’s boys. But alas! Destiny had certain other plans and the Indians having made it to the semi-finals in a convincing fashion, were made to bite the dust by a rampaging Sri Lankan unit.

So what is so different about Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men that makes them the strongest contenders to lift the coveted World Cup trophy in the all important final on April 2. Here, we take a look at some of the strong points that give an edge to Mahi’s men over Azzu’s boys.

Opening Pair: Although the name Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar features in both the squads (Sachin is the only surviving member of the 1996 squad, who is also playing in the 2011 tourney), India have successfully produced another swashbuckling batsman in the meanwhile, who can send shudders down the spine of any bowling attack in the world.

Back in 1996, India did not have a settled opening pair and were forced to try three different combinations during the course of the tournament. This time around, however, India have the well established duo of Sachin and Virender Sehwag at the top, who, if get going, can make a contest one-sided in no time at all.

Strong Middle Order: Perhaps the biggest advantage that this Indian team has is the presence of an extremely solid middle order. Unlike the 1996 line-up, which would collapse like a pack of cards as soon as Sachin departed, each member of the present team has the capability of winning a game on his own.

Although the ’96 squad also had batsmen like Sanjay Manjrekar, Mohammad Azharuddin, Navjot Sidhu, Vinod Kambli and Manoj Prabhakar in its ranks, most of those players were either nearing the end of their careers or were not in form.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni: Captain cool Mahendra Singh Dhoni has infused a new found self belief in this Indian cricket team. After their miserable run in the 2007 edition of the World Cup, Dhoni came as a breath of fresh air to take the Indian team to an all time high. Not only did he lead a young and inexperienced team to the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup title, but he was also instrumental in taking them to the Numero Uno spot in the ICC Test rankings table.

With his inspiring captaincy and cool head, Dhoni is the ideal person to guide the players through in a strenuous situation like the final.

Although Azharuddin’s record as a captain is right up there with the best, the allegations of match fixing against him have lead people to question his motives during the latter part of his career.

A Balanced Outfit: Apart from his extraordinary leadership skills, Dhoni has also provided a much needed balance to this Indian line-up. In the form of a wicketkeeper, who also possesses the ability to win a match with his batting, India now have the luxury of playing an extra bowler or a batting all-rounder, according to the conditions.

India’s wicketkeeper during the 1996 tournament was Nayan Mongia. Anything about his batting talent is best left unsaid.

Strong Bench Strength: The reserve strength of this immensely talented Indian squad was on display during the home series against New Zealand. Taking the field in absence of some of their regular players like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh, India thrashed the Kiwis 5-0. Gautam Gambhir, who led the team in absence of regular skipper Dhoni also showed tremendous maturity in taking certain crucial decisions.

Mix of Experience and Youth: While India have the services of the grand old man Sachin Tendulkar, there is enough young blood in this unit in the form of Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and R Ashwin. Besides, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan have had enough experience in the international arena to survive the pressure cooker scenario of a huge stage like the World Cup.

Home Advantage: Last but not the least, India will have the support of a billion fans, who will be cheering their every run apart from being accustomed to the turfs. Home support can lift a team’s spirits in the hardest of times and that is what the players will be banking upon.