Two games into their title defence, the Indian team has sent out a strong signal of their intentions to opposing teams vying to dethrone them. The surgical precision with which India dispatched Pakistan and South Africa suggests they are in no mood to relinquish their crown without giving it a real go.
After registering their 6th win over archrivals Pakistan at ICC's flagship event, India ended their World Cup drought against Proteas by condemning them to a 130-run defeat. What fans witnessed at the MCG was a near-perfect cricket match from India as they outplayed the South African's in all departments.
India – as the defending champions and brimming with confidence – march ahead in a bid to successfully stamp their authority on the tournament. Here are three talking points from India's demolition job of South Africa in Melbourne.
Resurgence of Shikhar Dhawan
Shikhar Dhawan’s inclusion in India’s 15-man World Cup squad was never in doubt, especially since he along with Rohit Sharma was identified by the captain and management as India’s preferred opening combination.
Yet, the left-hander’s selection didn’t inspire much confidence since he had a torrid time with the bat on recent tours. However, the 29-year-old has responded to scathing criticism in the most exceptional manner. Having missed out on a century against Pakistan, ‘Gabbar’ appeared hungry for a three-figure score against the South Africans.
This World Cup has witnessed a different side of Dhawan for he has tried to build his innings playing with solidity and swagger. The southpaw’s form at the top is crucial to India’s hopes at the tournament. Dhawan’s game hinges a lot on confidence, which he now seems to have got back. This has been the biggest plus for India early on in the tournament.
Intensity of the Indian bowling attack
Bowling was supposed to be India's weak link coming into the tournament. Evidence from the first two games suggests India's bowlers have risen to the occasion. The bowling unit of Umesh Yadav, Mohammad Shami, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja was forced upon the captain with injuries to Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. This makes their performance even more remarkable.
After easily dismissing Pakistan in the first match, Indian bowlers put on a clinical display against South Africa. Mohit Sharma's inclusion in the team may have been fortuitous, but he has made a difference to India's bowling. Against the Proteas, Yadav and Shami's fastest deliveries were clocked at 147.0 and 143.7 km/hr. Their rhythm and consistent pace with the new ball has added a new dimension to the attack.
However, Ashwin has been India's standout performer in the first two games and could be a trump card going forward. The bowling intensity of India has probably taken experts and even opposition camps by surprise.
Another failure of lower middle-order
It must be a matter of great relief to Indian fans that the team has finally put up big runs on the board after their failure to do so in the recently concluded tri-series against Australia and England. With a bowling attack that is not on par with the best in the world, it was imperative that India’s batsmen started the tournament with a bang.
Though there have been plenty of positives with regard to India’s batting, certain problems continue to persist. A glaring weakness of this famed batting line-up has been their inability to consolidate on solid foundations provided by the top order. Despite cruising through majority of the game, the final flourish as the innings tails continues to elude the defending champions. India have been restricted to 300 and 307 runs in their first two games when it looked certain they would post a score in access of 320. MS Dhoni has to shoulder part of the blame for this problem, which could cost his team dear in the knockout games.
Another key aspect to India's strong show so far has been their fielding, especially outfielding. The fielders have complemented the bowlers, thereby adding pressure on the opposition. Inspired moments in the field help change the course of a match as Mohit Sharma's run out of AB de Villiers showed against South Africa.
After a flawless display, one has to compliment the dedicated Indian fans for turning up in such large numbers at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to support the team. The official attendance at the MCG for India's game against South Africa was 86876, which even bettered the 84336-strong crowd for Australia's opener against England.