With an impressive squad comprising maverick ex-captain Dhoni, the phenomenon called Captain Kohli, all-rounders like Pandya and Jadhav, and destroyer-in-chief bowler Bumrah, Team India’s chances in the 12th edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 look bright. Could this be the third time the Men in Blue will lift the Cup? Only time will tell
This is it. We’ve come full circle. We’re back to where our journey as a cricket crazy nation began: England. Lord’s. Here we go again. From complete underdogs then to absolute world dominators and financial powerhouses now. We’ve come a long way since that fine day in 1983 when Kapil Dev — an all-rounder from Punjab with an erstwhile ordinary individual record — lifted that trophy and ushered in an era of frantic following to the point of raising the status of the sport to that of a religion and its most revered son, Sachin Tendulkar, to that of a God.
A lot has happened between that iconic moment in the balcony of Lord’s to the iconic six hit by Mahendra Singh Dhoni to win India’s second World Cup in 2011. But all of that later. First, let’s celebrate the fact that our Sharma ji ka ladka, Rohit Sharma, is living up to expectations, and that Koffee With Karan came way before the World Cup and IPL and is a thing of the past. If only it will serve to ignite the fuel to perform better for Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul. And we still have our maverick ex-captain, Dhoni, albeit for most likely the last tournament of his stellar trophy-laden career.
So let’s get down to business and examine with utmost scrutiny our beloved Team India’s chances in the 12th edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019. Starting with our very own captain furious, Virat Kohli. He has come a long way since leading India to the U19 Cricket World Cup in 2008, and being a part, but not a key man, of the 2011 World Cup winning squad. He was handed over the ODI captaincy in 2017 and has only taken India to newer heights since. His personal accolades are a statistician’s dream. In ODIs, he holds the world record for the fastest batsman to 10,000 runs in 205 innings. He has the highest number of centuries in run chases in the world and is only nine centuries away from breaking Tendulkar’s record (49) in style, which I’m sure all us thought would never be broken.
But as the adage and some commentator’s favourite line goes: “Records are made to be broken.” We should, in fact, consider ourselves fortunate that we are seeing the cricket version of Messi and Ronaldo — albeit not in the same era — and both of them are Indians. And they are broken and keep getting broken in every department, which makes you wonder what the reason for that could be. The reasons are aplenty, namely smaller cricket boundaries, new improved thicker bats, different balls (Dukes v Kookaburra), changed power play rules, and pitches generally favouring batsmen etc.
So it’s only natural that India would feature heavily amongst those records being a batting heavy team predominantly. But recently, trends have changed and for the better. India has become a force to reckon with when it comes to the ball. The destroyer-in-chief being Jasprit Bumrah, who is atop the ICC world rankings for bowlers. He is supported by Kuldeep Yadav (7), Yuzvendra Chahal (8), Bhuvnesh Kumar (17) — who are all amongst the top 20. While amongst the top 20 batsmen, only three Indians feature, namely Kohli (1), Rohit Sharma (2), and Shikhar Dhawan (14). The next best batsman is Dhoni at number 24.
Talking of the all-rounders, they are what many believe to be the X factor in India’s chances for progressing to the last four. Pandya is fresh off a Koffee controversy and fresher off an IPL showing he should be proud of — he ended the tournament with 402 runs at a strike rate of over 190, smashing 38 boundaries and 29 sixes in 15 matches. He also claimed 14 wickets in 16 games. He has so far played 45 ODIs and has taken 44 wickets with an economy of 5.53 and batting lower down the order, he has scored 731 runs in 29 innings. He can field well too and can bowl six to seven crucial overs, picking up wickets. His role is akin to that of Yuvraj Singh in the 2011 World Cup. And if he can channelise that embarrassing, unnecessary media scrutiny and a wonderful IPL showing, he can very much be the most important player of the team and a potential Man of the Tournament just like Yuvraj Singh.
The other player who could be as effective is Kedar Jadhav. He might not be as exuberant and controversial but he has proved himself many a time not just with the bat but also with the ball. A solid middle order batsman and good finisher, he is also the man with the “golden arm”. His side arm action and the angle at which he delivers makes it difficult for batsmen to pick the ball.
KL Rahul has also shown his mettle and not let controversies affect him. It’s good to see that both Pandya and Rahul took the negative media attention in a positive way and came out of it stronger and more determined. Rahul looks confident and reliable to call upon in any situation. He has made the crucial number 4 position his own. And being an opener originally, it’s an advantage when the ball is moving around and causing problems. Talking of how the controversy affected him, he said: “In life, in cricket, you make mistakes. You have bad days, you learn from them and try to be a better person. I never doubted myself, my personality, never doubted who I am. I was strong in my head, I got through it and am happy to be back and enjoying my cricket.” I think we all have something to learn from him in the sense that it’s not the blow that gets you down, it’s the mettle to get back up and fight for what you believe in.
This is the fifth time that cricket’s most prestigious tournament is being held in England and Wales. The previous winners of those editions have been West Indies (1975, 1979), India (1983), and Australia (1999). The format for the tournament is quite different from the previous editions we are used to seeing. It’s played in a round-robin manner in a single group of 10 teams, with each team playing the other nine once, and the top four at the end of the group phase progressing to the semi-finals. The 1992 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand was also played in a round-robin format, with nine teams participating. The 10-team tournament this time has gained criticism due to the lack of Associate teams in the tournament. Given the increase of the Test-playing nations from 10 to 12, with the admission of Ireland and Afghanistan in June 2017, it is the first World Cup to be contested without all of the Test playing nations being present. After the elimination of all Associate teams at the qualifying tournament, this is also the first World Cup to feature no Associate members.
There’s no tournament without a bit of controversy. A few days ago, Dhoni was asked by the ICC to remove the dagger insignia from his wicket-keeping gloves despite the Indian cricket board’s assertion that it was not a military symbol. The BCCI had sought permission for the star wicketkeeper batsman from the world governing body (ICC), but it was denied citing regulations that no individual message or logo can be displayed on any item of clothing or equipment. In addition, the logo also breaches the rule that allows only one sponsor’s logo on the wicket-keeping gloves. In Dhoni’s case, he already sports an SG logo on his gloves.
Another talking point is the big match for all Indians — cricket fans or not — at Old Trafford, Manchester, on June 16. It’s the one game that brings every Indian together (if cricket didn’t do a good enough job of it already). It’s India v Pakistan. With the same old rivalry and passion, but with renewed verve and political context. Following the 2019 Pulwama attack, several former Indian players and the BCCI called for the boycott of this group match fixture, wanting to ban the Pakistan team from playing in the tournament. However, after conducting a board meeting in Dubai, the ICC rejected the BCCI’s proposal and confirmed that the scheduled match would go ahead as planned, despite the ongoing stand-off between the two nations. The match being held today will most likely be viewed the world over by a record audience as is usually expected for an India-Pakistan encounter, but made extra tense by the recent political relationship of the two nations.
Talking of India, Pakistan and the many reasons this cannot be viewed as just a sport. It’s an extension of everything we stand for and believe in — personally, politically, morally. Ever wondered why Team India’s jersey colour is blue and not the usual suspected patriotic colours, saffron or green? It had to be taken from the Indian Flag as a symbolic gesture for patriotism. While saffron stands for courage and selflessness, green signifies faith, fertility, and prosperity. The blue in the Ashoka Chakra stands for the colour of the sky and ocean. The selection of saffron or green colours for the jerseys would have created controversies of religious or political favoritism as saffron is heavily associated with Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism as well as the political parties we all know by now, while green is affiliated with Islam. Thus, it wouldn’t have been a wise decision to choose those to represent a nation which prides itself to be secular. The blue colour then automatically became the first choice to represent the nation and its warriors on the field with its symbolic meaning of the “most truth of the universe”. And “Bleed Blue” has recently become an anthem of the youth, again symbolically signifying the passion and dedication of battling till you bleed and staying true to your talents and virtues. And nobody embodies that never-say-die attitude and fighter mentality than our current and former captains, Kohli and Dhoni.
In the 2011 World Cup hosted by India, we were one of the favourites and definitely one with the most pressure to perform on our home ground with the final being in Mumbai. This time, that mantle is taken by England with the final being at the Mecca of cricket — Lord’s. And unlike India, they’re not that adept at handling the undue pressure of expectations, with the 2013 Champions Trophy final being a case in point. India sure has good memories of playing finals at the Mecca of cricket (cue Sourav Ganguly’s shirt waving at Lord’s balcony), the NatWest Series Final in 2002, and, of course, the 1983 World Cup win. But for that to happen again, India will have to beat the best of the best to first come in the top four and then it’s all down to the semi-finals and the finale at Lord’s.
England, meanwhile, will be looking to win their first ever World Cup, which is ironic since they’re the inventors of the game. They have been losing finalists in 1979, 1987, and 1992. In the 2015 World Cup, Bangladesh knocked out England from the group stage, which raised questions on the latter’s relevance as an ODI team. Since then, they have completely turned over a new leaf and have become the number 1 ranked team in the world in ODIs. They have defeated several top teams, including India and Australia, this year and their batsmen also broke the record for the highest total in an ODI innings. With a plethora of match winners in their squad, they are certainly not the team they were in the previous World Cups and are viewed by most as ‘the’ team to watch out for. But whether or not they have shed their choker status and weak mentality remains to be seen. Lord’s save the Queen!
The writer is a doctor by profession and an amateur cricketer