Sporting teams mired in fixing controversies, historically, end up outperforming in a subsequent sporting event, the flag bearer being Italian football in 2006. Can India replicate the same and bring back smiles on a billion plus faces?
The ICC Champions Trophy 2013 will be played during the early summer in the United Kingdom. In a bid to avoid low scoring games on seaming fresh pitches, excess swing early or under lights, and for peak television slots, the organizers have agreed on a 10:30 am start for day games.
This move was necessary as the 50 over format is getting the slow death treatment. Incidentally, this is the last edition of the Champions Trophy. Yet, since Indian batsmen develop cold feet versus any bowler jogging in from a distance, especially when it is overseas, it’s pertinent to dissect their performance in the recent past in similar conditions.
Since the start of 2011, India played 22 matches outside the subcontinent, winning 7 and losing 12. While the 30% win percentage doesn’t make good reading, it’s a fair reflection, considering India locked horns with five different teams in four different continents.
Yet, they will land on the shores of England and Wales as the World Champion in the longest limited over format of the game. Add the lenses, scribes and anti-corruption blokes (who will now be stalking them more than ever), and MS Dhoni’s boys will continue being the most popular sporting team on earth during the month.
Preparing for WC 2014
This team, despite the fact that the Indian selectors have taken the bold step of dropping big names in quest of preparing a youthful team,is good enough to defend the World Champion tag in Australia 2014. So, no Sachin, no Gambhir, no Sehwag, no Bhajji and no Zaheer – each of whom had experienced mixed results in Champions Trophy’s previous six editions.
India had a progressive curve during the first three – semi-finalists in 1998, finalists in 2000 and joint winners in 2002 – but never managed to get out of the group stages in the following three editions.
It’s easy to blame BCCI and the selectors for handing caps to the IPL 6 success boys. It’s harsher to accept the reality that Indian cricket isn’t really brimming with talent as much as Australia, South Africa, Pakistan or England are. So, while Vinay Kumar, Amit Mishra and Dinesh Karthik are expected to warm the bench, there were not too many players who were banging on the selector’s doors. Ajinkya Rahane’s case isn’t strong enough – he did play a few ODIs versus England, at home, in Dec 2012, but was getting bowled with embarrassingly huge gaps between bat and pad.
That leaves the team management with 12 best options to choose from and the likely toss up for one spot will be between the inconsistent spinners – Jadeja and Ashwin – and the frequently injured Umesh Yadav.
Key to India’s chances
Two players, who hold the key to India’s challenge, have incidentally been selected, not on the basis of IPL 6, but on recent Test performances. In Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay we have two in-form openers who have matured over the years and shown, sparingly, that they have the technique to survive in testing conditions.
With a strong middle order on paper (Virat, Rohit, Dhoni, Raina), decent lower order (Jadeja, Irfan and/or Ashwin) and an unreliable bowling to contend with, India will go into the event as a “Bat second” team. That would give their bowlers the morning freshness of the pitch and batsmen the best time to bat – afternoon.
Needless to say, the toss will be key and if and when India need to bat first, they will be tested and likely exposed. If Dhawan and Vijay pull it off, India will be in it to win it.
India’s Group Rivals
India has been placed in the easier of the two groups. Here’s a look at how the men in blue have fared in the recent past, against their group rivals.
Vs South Africa: Since 2011, India has a 2-4 record versus the Proteas, including a 2-3 loss at the Saharan continent over two years ago. The two wins were narrow and the losses heavy. MS Dhoni and Raina were at sea during the series while Kohli and Yusuf Pathan sparkled.
Best way to get points vs South Africa – Pray for weather to wash out the game!
Vs West Indies: In the past two years, India have a 7-3 record over a West Indies team which was mostly in tatters. Rohit Sharma had Bradmanesque averages over these ten games and single-handedly won a few of them. Once again, Virat Kohli was consistently good while Raina consistently bad. Ashwin was unimpressive throughout while Shikhar Dhawan played the away bilateral series at the Caribbean islands and was subsequently dropped.
Best way to get points vs West Indies – Win toss and bowl with discipline, the Calypso kings are likely to collapse fast.
Vs Pakistan: Due to reasons beyond cricket, the traditional rivals have played just seven games since Jan 2009. Recently, the teams were locked in a bilateral series where the home team, India, meekly lost 1-2. Once again the winning margin was narrow, the losses were embarrassing. Despite it being a home series, barring Raina and MS Dhoni, none of the batsmen averaged above 20. Ashwin again wasn’t par.
Best way to get points vs Pakistan – Win toss, bowl with discipline and hope Pakistan do what they do best – self destruct.
Players to watch out for
Only one name – Bhuvaneshwar Kumar.
Having been disappointed over decades with Indian pacers, primarily on attitude, fitness and commitment, I can safely say we finally have a player who won’t let you question on these fronts.
Kumar is a breath of fresh air into our cricket system loaded with stars whose hype levels are inversely proportional to their performance (no, not just Rohit Sharma alone). He is easily our best fielder amongst the bowlers and the best player to throw the ball to, amidst adversity. The day Chris Gayle and company were merrily hitting Pune Warriors out of orbit at 13 runs per over, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar ended up with an economy rate of 5.75.
Kumar is still an unknown entity to most opposition and in the conditions that should see his trade prosper even further, he will carry India’s “X” factor to the event.
The men in blue will be big underdogs in their opening encounter vs South Africa and by the time they play their second game, they are likely to enter a situation where they need to win all the games to reach the semis. The squad is likely to be drained out, post the rigours of IPL6. The ODI world champions have got knocked out early from all ODI tournaments featuring more than two nations, in the past two years.
Expect a hat-trick of knockouts unless other results in the group, coin and rain fall on the right side, at the right time.