Chennai: Their chances of making the quarterfinals hardly at risk, India would look to make up for the rather unconvincing campaign so far with a dominating performance against the West Indies in their final group B match of the cricket World Cup here on Sunday.
Winning the final Group B encounter is important for India to not just be absolutely sure of a quarterfinal berth but also to regain the confidence that was dented by the narrow loss to South Africa in their previous preliminary match.
Apart from their bowling and fielding problems, the Indians have not been able to find the right combination so far and the team management will need to give a serious thought to the composition of the team. The game on Sunday also assumes significance because of apersonal milestone that senior Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar could achieve.
The iconic batsman is just one short of his 100th international hundred and Indian fans will be hoping that he would be able to achieve the feat on Sunday. The Mumbai batsman already has 51 Test hundreds from 177 matches and 48 centuries from 449 ODIs. Chepauk is also one of his favourite grounds, having made five centuries in 14 Test matches but it would be his first in limited-overs cricket if he manages to strike it on Sunday.
Despite the uproar over the team`s lacklustre display so far (three wins, a tie and a loss), India is certain to find a quarterfinal berth even if they lose tomorrow due to superior net run rate. Only South Africa have made the last-eight stage from the group, which opened up after England`s loss to Ireland and Bangladesh.
The other three quarterfinal places will be decided among India and England (both seven points) and West Indies and Bangladesh (both six points). However, India is better placed among the four as only a loss by a huge margin to West Indies could knock them out on net run rate. And India can consider themselves lucky as they will be playing the last league tie in the event and would know before the match what they need to do to clinch a quarterfinal berth.
India have been far from living up to the favourites tag and have been rather rusty in all their matches. The bowling has looked suspect, the batting prone to collapse and adding to it are the murmurs of trouble between selectors and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni over the selection of an out-of-form leg-spinner Piyush Chawla. Dhoni was reportedly hauled up for persisting with Chawla and ignoring off-spinner R Ashwin by chief selectors Kris Srikkanth. The BCCI has denied such reports but as the old adage goes, there is never smoke without fire. Some of the changes that Dhoni has made to the batting order have also been criticised and tomorrow, local lad Ashwin could get to make his World Cup debut. There are also indications that Suresh Raina may come in for an off-colour Yousuf Pathan.
The West Indians are an unpredictable side, capable of being destructive one day and capitulating the very next, and India would hope that the Caribbeans turn out to be the latter of their two sides on Sunday. Too reliant on Chris Gayle on the batting front, the Windies would be hoping that the batsman turns up at his destructive best while India would be aiming to send him back as quickly as possible.
India`s collapse against the South Africans, losing nine wickets for 29 runs, despite yet another solid batting display by Tendulkar (111) exposed the chinks in the much-touted batting armour. Dhoni was expectedly livid after that and slammed the batsmen for playing to the galleries and not for the country. The three-day long rest period after the Nagpur fiasco must have helped the players to regroup and mentally prepare for the crucial tie against West Indies.
India have a slight edge over West Indies whose three-match winning streak - albeit against lowly teams – was halted by England. Captained by Darren Sammy, the side comprising several youngsters, faces a must-win situation and need big partnerships if it wants to pose any real challenge to the hosts. West Indies vulnerability to pressure situations came to the fore against England when they lost four wickets for just three runs in 21 deliveries after sitting pretty at 222 for 6 needing only 22 runs more at that stage for victory. Carrying the underdog tag, the West Indies side has been untested barring the match against South Africa in which they lost and could not hold their nerves in the end against England despite a flying start by Gayle (43).
Major worry for West Indies will be the failure of key spinner Sulieman Benn against England, who shares the second spot in the highest wicket takers with 12 scalps, as he not only drew a blank but conceded 56 runs off his 10 overs. But young leg-spinner Davendra Bishoo made a memorable ODI debut picking three wickets, after coming in place of Nikita Miller.
However, the Caribbeans know that Indian batsmen would be the last to be troubled by spinners and will have to rework their strategy. A fact acknowledged by West Indies head coach Ottis Gibbson, who said the team would like to win the toss and post a score of 400-plus.
Teams (from): India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla, Ravichandran Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, Munaf Patel.
West Indies: Darren Sammy (capt), Chris Gayle, Devon Smith, Darren Bravo, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Kieron Pollard, Devon Thomas, Sulieman Benn, Nikita Miller, Kemar Roach, Kirk Edwards, Ravi Rampaul, Andre Russell, Devendra Bishoo.
Umpires: Steve Davis (AUS) and Simon Taufel (AUS). TV umpire: Bruce Oxenford (AUS). Match referee: Roshan Mahanama (SRI). Match starts 1430 hrs (IST).