It’s not often that India begin a tournament as genuine contenders. However, when the Indian team begin their quest for a third Cricket World Cup with their opening match against South Africa on 5 June, the anticipation among the fans to see Virat Kohli with the winners’ trophy at Lord’s will be genuine.
Thirty-six years since a beaming Kapil Dev held the trophy aloft on the Lord’s balcony to spark a nation’s imagination and eight years after Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men reclaimed the crown at home, India goes into the tournament as strong favourites to complete the troika.
Since their semi-final exit four years ago, India has assembled a formidable side that is adept at chasing down the most daunting of totals as well as restricting the most vaunted line-ups under manageable targets.
While batting has been India’s traditional strength, this year they possess the best bowling attack of any team in the tournament. Quite a rarity for Indian cricket. Led by the strapping Jasprit Bumrah, Indian bowling has the depth and variety to cause severe damage to any batting order.
While the quality of the personnel is not in doubt, it will all boil down the team’s ability to handle the pressure. India will enjoy an atmosphere akin to their home grounds thanks to the sizeable Indian expatriate population on the English Isle, and they will hope the fans provide motivation when the going gets tough and not weigh them down with expectations.
Depth in batting
The onus of getting the runs on the board will be on the top-three of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Kohli. Dhawan enjoys a good ODI record in England and India will hope for his opening act with Sharma to lay a solid platform for the rest of the batsmen to follow. Kohli at number 3 is a sight most teams would want to avoid. The world number 1 batsman across Test and ODI formats, has amassed a stunning 21 hundreds in successful run chases and will be expected to continue his peerless consistency in England.
Kohli downwards, India’s lack of a fixed option at number 4 has been well documented. However, a timely hundred in the warm up game against Bangladesh on Tuesday appears to have sealed the spot in favour of KL Rahul.
The middle order will be marshalled by the imperious Dhoni. The veteran wicket-keeper batsman averages an astonishing 105 in successful chases. He was in great nick in the Indian Premier League (IPL), scoring 416 runs at an average above 83 and has continued in the same vein in the practice games in England. Apart from his nonpareil work behind the stumps, Dhoni remains the bulwark of Indian batting if the top-order fails.
On the evidence of the recent ODI series against Australia and New Zealand, Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav can be depended upon to keep the scoreboard ticking and remain nerveless even in the most difficult of run chases.
Imperious bowling attack
Bumrah, perhaps the most innocuous fast bowler to grace Indian cricket, has been sensational over the last couple of years. After his initial struggles, the pacer has cemented his place in the Indian white-ball side and is an ace up captain Kohli’s sleeve. Bumrah has the ability to swing it both ways at a deceptive pace and his unconventional action makes him even harder for the batsmen to pick.
Bumrah’s opening act with Bhuvneshwar Kumar should be a treat for the fans. Kumar, albeit slower than India’s pace spearhead, has the consistency and the ability to swing the ball that will make him difficult to play in English conditions. Mohammed Shami as the third pacer will not allow the batsmen any room for letting their guard down consistently touching the 90 miles per hour mark. If his form on the tours of Australia and New Zealand is any indication, Shami will be a real handful.
The spinner’s slot in the side will go to one of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, both of whom have the ability to keep it tight in the middle overs and provide valuable breakthroughs.
The key man
Hardik Pandya, who was dropped from the team after his uncharitable comments about women on national television earlier this year, has returned to cricket with a vengeance. His form — both with the bat and the bowl — was a big reason for Mumbai Indians’ successful IPL run.
Pandya will be expected to provide the late fireworks and add 20-30 extra runs to the team total. His form bodes well for a side that lacks the six-hitting firepower in the middle that teams like the West Indies, England and Australia have in plenty.
The team will likely opt for four specialist bowlers, meaning Pandya will be expected to come good with the ball as well.
The tournament format ensures that a one-off upset won’t account for much and the strongest four sides will reach the business end of the quadrennial event. India will fancy their chances of making the semis, however, exiting at that stage will be considered a disappointing outcome. For the passionate fans at home, nothing short of being at Lord’s on 14 July will do.
The squad: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma (vice-captain) Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Vijay Shankar, MS Dhoni (wicket-keeper), Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami