India: The Moment is Now

Posted on February 8, 2011 by

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A 3-2 loss to South Africa in the recent ODI series should ostensibly put a dampener on Team India’s prospects in the World Cup.

Coupled with injury worries, little or no match practice (and corresponding lack of match fitness) of the top order (Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir), Suresh Raina’s batting, a bowling line up that is thin on paper (and a Zaheer Khan niggle away from being pedestrian), poor form on the field and the expectation (and consequent hysteria) of a billion people should make India a long shot at winning the World Cup.

Add to this  India’s form in recent ICC tournaments (both the 50 and 20 over versions), and the results of the last World Cup (where India was humiliated out of the tournament in the first round) and India’s prospects become dimmer still.

And yet pundits, ex-players, betting companies and just about anyone in the know are ranking India as a semifinalist, at the very minimum. With very good reasons.

The Indian template is premised on the Australian template of power hitting up and down the order (from 2007) and the Sri Lankan template of taking pace off the ball and using bits and pieces bowlers (from 1996).

And this time around, they have the personnel to do just that.

MS Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, R Ashwin, Piyush Chawla, Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Virat Kohli, Praveen Kumar, Yusuf Pathan, Suresh Raina, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh can all bat with varying degrees of competency.

Virender Sehwag, R Ashwin, Piyush Chawla, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Yusuf Pathan, Suresh Raina, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh can all bowl.

And it is this strength in depth (talent and roster wise) that make India a formidable opponent.

Can things go wrong? Well, of course.

India opens its tournament playing Bangladesh away. Factor in India’s innate inability to hit the ground running, and there is every chance that this game could be a potential banana skin. Add to this the subsequent hysteria and things could go south very fast – Home cooking has its virtues, but also its faults.

The other potential banana skin is the 7 day gap between its games with South Africa and the West Indies. India is a momentum team, and a 1, 2, 3 of Ireland, Netherlands and South Africa after a gap filled opening with Bangladesh and a banged up England gives it the right build up as far as momentum goes.  The 7 day gap then comes in as a dampener and will potentially challenge the team.

The third potential banana skin is the possibility of having to play away (Sri Lanka or Bangladesh) in the quarter finals, either on short notice or post a long delay.

That being said, the fact that that India plays 6 games, 5 of them at home, and a schedule that allows the team to ease players in to form with long enough breaks to ride out niggles means that India is actually in a very good position to plan its campaign and identify its best XI, leading into the quarter finals. The presence of minnows and the need to win 3 out of 6 games to make it into the next round also gives India some leeway.

Add to this the fact that, unlike 2007 when they were a poorly led and badly fractured team, India does not have any of those off field dramas surrounding it this time which should stand them in good stead as the tournament progress.

Worst Case Scenario: 1987 meets 1996 meets 2011 and India crash out in the semifinals.

Best Case Scenario: 1983 all over again.

Prediction: 2011 Champions.

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Preview by Shrikant Subramanian