The home team will start as favourites. But for India to win, the selection of the playing eleven will have to be spot on. Lounge analyses India’s chances
The ODI World Cup is back in India after a 12-year hiatus. The current squad only has two players from M.S. Dhoni’s dream team that won the final in Mumbai in 2011: Virat Kohli and Ravichandran Ashwin. But it’s a squad bristling with talent that will start as favourites in home conditions, with key players coming into form at the right time.
The first time this marquee tournament came to the subcontinent was 36 years ago, in 1987, after Kapil’s Devils won the 1983 World Cup in England against all odds. But the 1987 campaign ended in heartbreak in the semi-final in Mumbai, as Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting swept England to victory. And in 1996, a strong Indian team led by Mohammed Azharuddin succumbed to Sri Lanka on a dodgy Kolkata pitch in the semi-final, right after the euphoria of beating Pakistan.
Now it’s the turn of Rohit Sharma to try and emulate the feats of Kapil Dev in 1983 and Dhoni in 2011. His triumph in the Asia Cup less than a month before the World Cup starts on 5 October is an ideal set-up. India have ticked most boxes just in time for the big event. Here’s a rundown of what they have got right—and a caveat on what could go wrong.
Mohali, Sep 22 (ANI): India’s Jasprit Bumrah gestures during the 1st ODI match against Australia at Inderjit Singh Bindra Stadium in Mohali on Friday.
The return of Jasprit Bumrah
The best news for India is not just the return of Jasprit Bumrah from an year-long layoff due to back injury but the way he bowled in the Asia Cup. He was virtually unplayable in his first spell against Pakistan on 11 September and his early wicket in the final against Sri Lanka six days later showed just what India had been missing. Admittedly, the damp, cloudy conditions in Sri Lanka aided Bumrah, but the control and pace with which he moved the ball both ways signalled that he would be a huge threat to any opposition in the World Cup.
He appeared in no discomfort, except for a heart-stopping moment when he twisted his ankle after delivering a ball in the final. A nation heaved a collective sigh of relief as he carried on full swing. But the star bowler has an uncommon action and the team management would do well to manage his workload during the long World Cup campaign.
India’s Mohammed Siraj bowls during the third and final ODI between India and Australia at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Rajkot on September 27, 2023.
The evolution of Mohammed Siraj
As a rookie, Mohammed Siraj was the unlikely spearhead of a second- string pace attack in an injury-hit Indian team that famously won the series-deciding fourth Test in Brisbane, Australia, in January 2021. Now he partners Bumrah, swinging the new ball both ways and mixing it up with well-disguised slower balls and bouncers.
Pace bowlers hunt in pairs and Siraj showed just how, with a sensational haul of six for 21 in the Asia Cup final on 17 September, after Bumrah provided the initial breakthrough. It’s a formidable opening attack for the World Cup, although it remains to be seen how they perform at venues less favourable to seam and swing bowling than in the Asia Cup. India’s World Cup opener against Australia in Chennai on 8 October will be the litmus test.
India’s Kuldeep Yadav bowls a delivery during the third one day international cricket match between Australia and India in Rajkot, India, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.
Kuldeep Yadav’s new action
A straighter run-up with the non-bowling arm tucked closer to the body has given more impetus to the left-arm leg-spin of Kuldeep Yadav. His comeback trail started last December in Bangladesh and gained momentum to culminate in a nine-wicket tally in the Asia Cup; he was named the player of the tournament. Pakistan and Sri Lanka are no pushovers against spin but Yadav tied them up in knots.
Leg-spin requires guts and an attacking captain who prioritises wicket-taking over saving runs. Under Rohit Sharma—and before that, Rishabh Pant for Delhi Capitals in the Indian Premier League (IPL)—Yadav was able to regain the rhythm and confidence he had lost on Dinesh Karthik’s watch at the Kolkata Knight Riders. India’s wicket-taking prowess in the middle overs on spin-friendly tracks will be a vital factor in the World Cup.
India’s KL Rahul plays a shot during the third one day international cricket match between Australia and India in Rajkot, India, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.
The Rahul-Kishan combination
K.L. Rahul’s run-a-ball century in a high-pressure game against arch rivals Pakistan in the Asia Cup on 11 September came straight after rehabilitation from a serious injury in the IPL. It doesn’t get better than that. His glove-work behind the stumps also ticked a box for India in replacing the injured Rishabh Pant.
Rahul is important in the middle order because he’s arguably the best counter to spin in the squad. Ishan Kishan has also been scoring consistently but he’s not as safe a wicketkeeper as Rahul. However, Shreyas Iyer’s aborted comeback, owing to back spasms during the Asia Cup, prompted India to include both Rahul and Kishan in the playing eleven. Thus the team management stumbled upon the better solution, because Kishan brings a left-right combination to the middle order to put spinners off their game.
But an even better option than Iyer or Kishan would be to have the swashbuckling Suryakumar Yadav as a finisher, bringing his T20 game to the last 15 overs of ODIs. It would be a shame to keep a game-changer like him on the bench.
Top order finds groove
After collapsing against the Pakistan speedsters in India’s first Asia Cup game on 2 September, the top order found its groove. Two half-centuries from skipper Rohit Sharma and a century against Pakistan by Kohli heralded the readiness of these two stalwarts for the World Cup. Most heartening of all was the sheer attacking brilliance of young opener Shubman Gill, who had gone off the boil between the IPL and the Asia Cup.
Nevertheless, the collapse against Pakistan was another reminder that India’s string of right-handers at the top makes it easier for the opposition’s new-ball attack to find their line. Kishan, an aggressive left-hander, could be a foil at No.3, with Kohli moving down to No.4 and Rahul to No.5. But it’s unlikely that the team management will tinker with the order at this stage.
Shardul or Shami?
The Indian think tank seems intent on playing medium-pacer Shardul Thakur at No.8 for the additional batting depth he provides. This means Mohammed Shami will sit out as a back-up for Bumrah and Siraj. India will miss out on the unerring accuracy with which he hits the seam with the new ball, and his yorkers at the death.
Thakur has been winkling out batsmen with his variations in the middle overs, but usually proves expensive. His slow medium pace could be vulnerable if either Bumrah or Siraj has an off-day.
India already have two good all-rounders in Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja. So it’s surprising that batting depth has taken precedence over a fourth specialist bowler. How often does a No.8 win an ODI match with the bat? It remains to be seen if India will rue the move to lengthen the batting order at the expense of a strike bowler like Shami.
Ashwin is set to play his third 50-overs World Cup after the veteran spinner was added in India’s 15-member squad.
(HT_PRINT/(AP file photo))
Ashwin replaces Axar
The quadricep injury that sidelined Axar Patel in the Asia Cup brought Ravichandran Ashwin back into the equation. The world’s No.1 bowler in Tests will be another wicket-taker in India’s World Cup squad, joining Yadav and Jadeja on spin-friendly tracks. The off-spinner provides variety, given how well he bowls to left-handers. He’s no slouch with the bat either.
Although Axar Patel is a better lower order batsman, he has been off-colour in his primary role of being a wicket-taking spinner. India considered Washington Sundar as his replacement, but finally picked Ashwin after seeing his performance in the ODI series against Australia just before the World Cup. Fortuitously, India got a better team with the inclusion of Ashwin.
Between the ears
It’s often said that cricket matches are decided by what goes on between the ears of players and leaders, more than what happens on the 22 yards. Coach Rahul Dravid and captain Sharma will need to think on their feet to make the right decisions that give India the best chance to win the coveted trophy that eluded them in the last ODI World Cup after topping the league table.
They made poor choices at the Asia Cup and T20 World Cup last year, such as putting Dinesh Karthik ahead of Rishabh Pant and giving extended runs to Arshdeep Singh and Bhuvneshwar Kumar instead of getting Shami into the mix earlier. But they learnt from those mistakes and came up with a winning team and game plan at this year’s Asia Cup. That will be a confidence-booster going into the ODI World Cup.
Dhoni and South African coach Gary Kirsten combined brilliantly in the 2011 World Cup. Dhoni’s move to come out ahead of the left-handed Yuvraj Singh to counter the threat of Sri Lanka’s ace off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan in the final is now part of folklore. Kapil Dev led by the example of his never-say-die attitude to triumph over the mighty West Indies in the 1983 final after India got bowled out for a paltry 183.
Can Rohit Sharma similarly give us goosebumps many years after the event? He certainly has the pedigree for it, after winning five IPL titles for Mumbai Indians and two Asia Cups for India. Now for the big enchilada.
Sumit Chakraberty is a Bengaluru-based writer.