K.C. VIJAYA KUMAR looks at the Indian team that will try to bring home the World Cup after a long drought.
Indians will hold their collective breath, mutter silent prayers and link their self-esteem to the manner in which M.S. Dhoni’s men perform in the ICC World Cup from February 19 to April 2. As Virat Kohli said, “You cannot get a bigger stage than the World Cup in cricket”, and the Indian team is primed to deliver.
Ever since Kapil Dev held aloft the Prudential World Cup at the Lord’s balcony in 1983 and triggered a cricketing revolution and its attendant commercial spin-off in India, the game has never been the same again. India remains the commercial engine of the game and its fans ranging from Ranchi to Tirunelveli are its most passionate followers .
After inept displays in the editions during 1975 and 1979, the Indian triumph in 1983 meant that during every World Cup, the fans believed that the team can win the coveted cup. All they got was Vinod Kambli’s tears in a jinxed semi-final at Kolkata in 1996 and a capitulation in the 2003 final in South Africa.
The current team, however, is expected to go all the way. Some of the hardest strikers of the red cherry are part of the squad with Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan capable of making the cricket ball defy gravity. Add to it the genius of Sachin Tendulkar, perhaps playing the show-piece event for one last time. The batting mix gets even more threatening when you sneak in the gifted Gautam Gambhir, Kohli and Suresh Raina.
However India’s veneer of batting dominance has suffered a few cracks in recent times primarily because its biggest enforcer Yuvraj has battled injuries and low-returns at the crease. Raina too had to contend with some chin-music as fast bowlers have taken note of his perceived vulnerability against short-pitched bowling. Tendulkar, Sehwag and Gambhir are all coming back from minor injuries and the quicker they settle down into their batting rhythm, the better it is for the team.
The bowling unit suffered a blow as an injured elbow meant that Praveen Kumar had to be dropped and the temperamental S. Sreesanth was selected. “We will miss Praveen. He is a street-smart cricketer,” said Dhoni. Truth be told, the bowling rides heavily on Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh. Zaheer’s verbal duel and subsequent melt-down against Adam Gilchrist and Mathew Hayden in the 2003 final is fresh in memory and the spearhead, who has evolved over the years, has to deliver upfront and prise out marauding openers. The key will be the manner in which the likes of Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel step up to the task and hopefully young spinners R. Ashwin and Piyush Chawla will grab their opportunities.
Over the next few weeks, India will have to contend with the challenges mounted by defending champion Australia, a strong South Africa, a talented Sri Lanka and dark-horses England and Pakistan. The last word though belongs to Yuvraj. “The team can be strong on paper but it’s important to win the tournament,” Yuvraj said.
Time to cheer Team India then and hopefully on April 2, Indians will turn delirious.
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