Indian cricket fans look forward to the performance of the Indian team in the World Cup with hope. Nothing short of a repeat of the title triumph in 1983 will satiate their hearts. Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his bunch of talented men in blue will have an enviable task on their hands. Not only have they to handle the pressure of match situations, but also the pressure that comes with huge expectations on their shoulders.
There is no doubt the team is balanced and has players who can excel in any conditions and against any opponent. But like Pakistan, Indian cricket teams have a tendency to commit hara-kiri. Dhoni’s first task is to ensure the right combination gets into the playing eleven. It is no easy task but man-management skills is an area Dhoni has to improve and he would do well to take some advice from former captain Sourav Ganguly.
First and foremost will be the decision on how many bastmen India need to play. Should we play seven batsmen and four bowlers or six batsmen and five bowlers? If they decide to play only six batsmen then invariably it has to be to accommodate an extra spinner. However, one cannot ignore Yusuf Pathan who is a genuine match winner at No.7. To accommodate Pathan they will have to sacrifice a genuine batsman which is not a good tendency either. The ideal solution will be to go in with seven batsmen – Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir, Kohli, Yuvraj, Dhoni and Pathan and four bowlers – Zaheer, Nehra, Harbhajan and Piyush Chawla and hope that this would be a winning combination. Pathan can don the role of the third spinner.
The batting order is another area that Dhoni needs to address – Gambhir or Kohli at No.3? Kohli has been impressive at this position in the chances that he has been given. Gambhir is a natural opening batsman and batting at No. 4 can hinder his game. Ideally, Gambhir should be at No.3 and Kohli at No.4. If the openers fall cheaply, Gambhir and Kohli will have to rebuild the innings together and these two are good candidates for this.
With Yuvraj Singh a pale shadow of his former self, the lower middle order looks a little brittle. One hopes that Yuvraj, Dhoni and Pathan do not fail together which would be disastrous. It would not be a bad idea to promote Pathan up the order for some quick runs when the team needs it. Yuvraj, Dhoni and Pathan are the finishers and they need to do their job well.
The bowlers will have their tasks cut out. Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra should share the new ball and will have to be very miserly at the death overs. Nehra has been found wanting in this respect in a few games and India cannot afford both their frontline seamers leaking runs at the end overs. Munaf Patel ensures a far more disciplined approach at the end overs than Nehra and could be tested for a couple of games. Sreesanth is likely to get a chance only in the event of either of the frontline bowlers sustaining an injury.
The spinners will have to take wickets, not just restrict the flow of runs. Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla are the first choice spinners with R Ashwin getting an odd game or two. Chawla was particularly impressive in the warm up game against Australia. He got the ball to turn and spin and flummoxed the batsmen with his guile. There are plenty of options for Dhoni in terms of part-time spinners – Yuvraj, Pathan and Sehwag can bowl but it remains to be seen whether Sehwag will actually bowl considering his shoulder.
The team opens its campaign against Bangladesh to whom it lost in the 2007 edition. Bangladesh are a very good team and should not be taken lightly. The fact that the match will be played in Bangladesh will add pressure on the Indians. India’s second game will be against the highly rated and confident England. A loss in the first two matches and India will not only struggle to make the cut for the quarter finals but also run the risk of meeting strong teams there. It is therefore imperative that the team puts its best foot forward in the opening matches.
Two relatively easy games against Ireland and Netherlands follow the first two games. Ireland impressed one and all in their warm up games should pose a bigger challenge for India than the Netherlands. These will be followed by two more games – against South Africa and West Indies.
The Indians should make the quarter-finals but will be lucky if they get to play the quarter-final match in India as 3 out of the 4 quarter-final games are scheduled in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The prospect of meeting Pakistan in the quarter-finals cannot be ruled out.
The team carries with it the prayers and hopes of a billion people. If Dhoni is able to emulate what Kapil Dev did in 1983, he will be adored by the public. If the team loses its way, then we can very well search for a new captain, for nothing short of his head will satisfy the public. The weight of expectations alone could bring India down but their performances over the last year and a half lend belief to the fact that this team is capable of making us Indians proud at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on the 2nd of April. The team would do well to win it for their talismanic performer over the last 21 years – Sachin Tendulkar – at his home ground. What can better winning a World Cup in your own backyard?