Saturday, January 24, 2015

CWC 15.. Where does India fit in ?

The next edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup is almost upon us, just about three weeks away. This time, it is down under, in those two beautiful countries of Australia and New Zealand. This itself should make the World Cup a great viewing experience, since the TV production quality out there is easily the best in the world. I remember the last World Cup there in 1992, which was great to watch (though India did not perform that well). Hopefully this World Cup would be as good as that (if not better).

It could certainly have been better had the ICC stuck to the same format as in 1992. Then, 9 teams played a round robin stage, followed by the semi finals and finals. So each team had to play eight tough games (since only 4 of them could qualify). In contrast, the last WC and this consists of 2 groups of 7 teams each with 4 qualifying. This effectively means that the first month of the tournament will essentially be one big warm up phase for the quarter finals. You can easily predict 7 out of the 8 quarter finalists. Sadly, the format has taken the sting out of this World Cup. Thankfully, the ICC has, better late than never, realized it and in 2019, it is back to only 8 teams of the World Cup with a round robin stage. 

But coming back to this WC, all talk is now of who the contenders are. And in this context, I believe India have selected the best possible squad. Maybe Robin Utthapa might have some genuine grouse at being left out, but apart from that, I honestly do not see any others who would have made the cut. There have been some voices arguing for the inclusion of Yuvraj, but it is more of sentiment than cricketing reason. More than any time earlier, the top six have to carry India's expectations on their shoulders. Between them Messrs Dhawan, Rohit, Kohli, Rahane, Raina, Rayudu and Dhoni hold the key to India's fortunes. They have to back themselves to chase any total or, if they are batting first, to set a total that is beyond the opposition's reach. Unfortunately, they will not be helped much by their bowling unit, which I believe is probably the weakest amongst the top six teams. Bhuvneshwar has been off colour recently (including the test match where he was bowling at times at 110-115 kph) and the lack of swing on the pitches there will not help his cause. Shami and Yadav were ordinary in the tests, and Ishant would need to step up and perform a bigger role as the lead bowler. The bowling woes also mean that India have no choice but to play 5 bowlers with Dhoni batting at six. I suspect this is not Dhoni's ideal combination, Which is why I believe the inclusion of Stuart Binny at No. 7 is a good choice. Especially in the couple of games in New Zealand (and if we end up playing the QF there), he should play a decent role. Assuming everyone is fit the XI would be: Dhawan, Rohit, Kohli, Rahane, Raina, Dhoni, Jadeja, Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar, Ishant, Shami.

So is this good enough to go all the way ? As I said, the real tournament starts in the quarter finals. There should not be any problem getting there. I read somewhere that India face a potential quarter final against Sri Lanka at the SCG. It will be a tricky encounter, especially with the SCG's slow surface and Sri Lanka's spinning army. But I would still put them as semi-final contenders.

Let the games begin !!

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