Analyzing India’s Chances

Indian World Cup squad: Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tndulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Yusuf Pathan, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Praveen Kumar, Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin, Piyush Chawla.

It is back and 15 years after that infamous semifinal (read heartbreak) the World Cup is back in the subcontinent. Last World Cup’s memories are like a dagger through the heart and India would be up against it in the first game (Feb 19) against co-host and their nemeses (if they can be called so) Bangladesh. Recently whitewashed New Zealand, Bangladesh have traversed the distance through many rocky terrains- their pushover days are long over- and now have the players which can take on the best. The tweaked format- top four from both the groups will qualify for the knockout round- means that there is a chance for the teams to falter at the early stage and then recover but looking at India’s group, it would be at the team’s own peril to blink against Bangladesh. Pakistan would attest to the side effects of taking Ireland as minnows and Netherlands gave India a hard fight in the opening game of the ’03 World Cup.

The pressure of playing the Cup at home would be tremendous and nothing less than a win would be enough to feed the success nation but, ‘83s apogee aside, is the team better than ‘03s team? Which went the distance and cracked each and every vault’s code, only to hit Australia at their prime best. Looking at the team and its recent performances there is a strong belief that ’83 would be repeated.

India’s group (Group B) has a strong England and dangerous South Africa and the volatile West Indies, apart form Bangladesh, Ireland and Netherlands. Winning at least four games would be imperative to qualify for the knockout stage and from there three good games would ensure the Cup.

No doubt about the pedigree of the players, the only thing to look out at this stage would be the fitness of the key players and how quickly they hit the stride and build on good positive vibes. The triumvirate at the top are nursing a few niggles and for India to blast the oppositions’ attacks, a fit Sehwag and Gambhir giving India a start would be the job half done. Sachin Tendulkar (in his last World Cup?), Man of the Tournament in 2003 and been there as a backbone of Indian team for more than two decades, deserves a fitting finale to his ODI career and the run machine of India needs to pull out one final chapter to complete his ‘epic’ journey.

Middle order- Who would be the odd one out? With the likes of Kohli and Raina beefing up the middle order, particularly Kohli’s rise to the top has been really tremendous and boosting for the team, and has given the team management a not so disturbing headache of which one to leave out? Yuvraj Singh’s recent decline in batting must be a cause of concern but his rise as a fifth bowler is refreshing. But Yuvraj in full flair with the bat is a must if India needs to lift the Cup. It wouldn’t be such a bad idea if Yuvraj is demoted down the order and used as a hitter for the latter overs. That begs the question of whom to drop? Since Sachin and Sehwag would open and Gambhir would take the No.3 slot, the middle order should comprise of Kohli at No.4 and with Dhoni as a floater after that the remaining two places have Yuvraj, Raina and Pathan to contest for. Two recent knocks of Pathan’s- first at Bangalore- where he pummeled New Zealand and then the blitzkrieg against South Africa- have virtually ensured his spot and in the toss up between Yuvraj and Raina, the former should trump the latter at least at the start of the tournament. Both the players’ recent form with the bat isn’t much to boast about and it’s the Yuvraj’s bowling spells which is making up for the bulk of fifth bowler’s quota. Plus with the caliber of Yuvraj, the team needs to take the punt and his batting escapades would be a vital cog in India’s success wheel.

Bowling combination- Harbhajan as a single spinner and Zaheer, Kumar as the new ball bowlers. A toss up between Nehra and Munaf for the third seamer slot should tilt towards the latter for his consistent performances in the last season. But here too there’s a lack of certainty with the faster men prone to injuries and hopefully come Feb 19, all would be in prime condition. The pitches would be flat and hard for the bowlers but if India needs to script history, bowlers need to jolt oppositions’ top order early like the performances of ’03 WC. Zaheer Khan the spearhead of Indian attack needs to make it big and Harbhajan’s recent scores with the bat is encouraging and extends India’s batting further down, but it would be his 10 over per game that would be critical in spin friendly home conditions. The difference could lie in the approach, rather than stemming the flow of runs, the interest would be served if he attacks and goes for the wickets.

Here also Ashwin and Chawla can come into the picture. In the home conditions, flexible bowling combinations would be the mantra and on the match day looking at the track; 3 P (Pace) and 1 S (Spin) or 2 P and 2 S needs to be settled. Contentious selection of the third spinner can be an ace for Dhoni if he uses Chawla’s leggies. It would lend variety to the attack and that’s why he should be the second option after Harbhajan.

World Cups are all about momentum and with the homecoming of the Cup, there would be no shortage of hysteria and extreme reactions. How quickly the Indian team builds on this and rides on the wave of a billion would be the most critical aspect. All said and done- this would be the best World Cup ever in whatever terms you look but, to have that frosty icing with cherries on top, Dhoni needs to be there on the night of April 2 on the podium lifting the Cup.

Aatish Sharma

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