One of the frontrunners for the exalted World Cup crown this season, India have been a force to be reckoned with. Over the years, India’s rise in this format has been irresistible and has replicated their magic across the globe, which has also earned them the tag of ’favourites’ in the tournament.
Since the 2015 World Cup, India have played 91 games, winning 60 and have lost 28. England, on the other hand, have won 59 out of 90 games they have played and one can clearly envisage why these two teams are touted as favourites for the World Cup. Though they lost their most recent ODI series against Australia, that can be considered as a minor hiccup for the formidable Indian side. India have evolved into a well-oiled unit, but there are certain loopholes that can be exploited in a long tournament like the World Cup.
It has become almost a proverb that India have the most prevailing top-order in contemporary cricket. The likes of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli render batting a joy to behold, and gun down opponents with some flair. Since the 2015 World Cup, India’s top-three have averages of 58.8 while the second best England is 14 behind at 45.44, the difference speaks volumes of the dominance India’s top order have had in recent times. There is a diversity and the fact that they are not one-dimensional gives them the edge over others. Dhawan dictates the term from the outset while Rohit likes to bid some time before unleashing a barrage of monstrous strokes while Kohli has every type of ammunition in his artillery.
The X factor
One just cannot overlook the ominous form of Hardik Pandya, which can make a big difference in India’s fortunes this season. He is well capable of having the kind of impact Yuvraj Singh had in India’s successful run in the 2011 World Cup. Needless to say, Hardik is the X factor in this Indian line-up and will be the man to watch out for this season.
Formidable pace attack
In cricket, there is hardly anything as mesmerising as watching a fast bowler putting in the hard yards and making the ball talk. India have traditionally relied on their batting to bail them out on most of the occasions, their bowling is not something which has been discussed more often during the mega events. However, this is not the scenario this time around. India enter the World Cup with one of the finest pace attacks, which hails of Jasprit Bumrah, Buvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Hardik Pandya.
Bumrah has evolved as the best white ball bowler in contemporary cricket while Shami’s comeback to ODI ranks in recent times has been impressive. Bhuvneshwar’s form has been a little on the slide, but the conditions in England will certainly help him whereas Hardik has developed an uncanny knack of chipping in with the crucial wickets. Since the 2015 World Cup, Bumrah has the best average for a fast bowler of 22.15 with 85 wickets from 49 games. He is unplayable in the depth and Shami and Bhuvneshwar have shown their effectiveness in the death time and again.
After losing the 2017 Champions Trophy final, India wasted no time in making amends and the most prominent one was the introduction and then persistence with the wrist-spinners. Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal have hunted down the oppositions in pair and scalped 153 wickets between them in 81 games. Their strength lies in their ability to get some help out of docile surfaces and take control of things in the middle overs.
India’s wobbly middle-order has been the talk of the town for a while now, especially the No. 4 slot. India are still uncertain regarding their No. 4 batsman, though Vijay Shankar has shown enough promise, the pressure will be on the all-rounder to deliver in such a big tournament.
MS Dhoni, on the other hand, hasn’t looked the player that he used to be in last year or so. With England expected to be a batting paradise, Dhoni’s sluggish strike-rate might pose a problem for India in high-scoring games. Kedar Jadhav had a terrible IPL and then suffered a mistimed injury, though World Cup is a different format, the crafty batsman will have to overcome psychological barriers.
Apart from the troika of Bumrah, Shami and Bhuvneshwar, India don’t really have an impactful back seamer in the squad. Should a bowler suffer an injury or lean patch, India may struggle in finding a replacement.
The No. 4 spot
Vijay Shankar stands a massive chance of sealing the No. 4 spot for at least a year should he manages to deliver in this World Cup. India have been experimenting since the last World Cup and the issue still remains unsolved to an extent. MSK Prasad hinted at Shankar taking guard at four and a series of impactful performances will only cement his spot in the line-up. In his sporadic appearances for India so far, the Tamil Nadu all-rounder has shown enough potential. But again, without performance, potential is nothing.
The over-reliance on top three could backfire
The presence of India’s top three infuse fear in the spines of opponents. However, the middle-order have not weaved similar magic; they are effective, but lack consistency. Although MS Dhoni's comeback to form in the Australia series added some strength to the middle-order, the over-reliance on the top-order may backfire in a long tournament like this one.
What if spinners lose their charm?
Cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties and at times, your strength may also become your weakness. The wrist-spinners have played a key role behind India earning the tag of favourites going into the tournament. They have done incredibly well and ran through oppositions in recent times in pair. However, the twilight of England series saw them going for runs and the English batsmen were able to decode their mystery.
Though a small size, the opportunity always exists. To add to the trouble, Kuldeep had a forgettable IPL where his lean form saw him eventually being axed towards the business end of the league. Not to forget, the conditions in England are expected to be batting-friendly, which means no possible help for the spinners. Though they hardly rely on the surface, the only massive threat that India would like to avoid is a lean patch for their spinners.
SportsCafe Best XI: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Vijay Shankar, MS Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Mohammed Shami, Kuldeeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah.
India World Cup squad: Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma (vice-captain), MS Dhoni(wk), Hardik Pandya, KL Rahul, Kedar Jadhav, Vijay Shankar, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Buvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Dinesh Karthik
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