It seems only a small time ago since we saw India conquer the world in cricket; the skipper lifting the shining silverware up to celebrate the occasion. On 2nd April 2011, India beat Sri Lanka in the ICC Cricket World Cup Final to take home the majestic trophy and confirm their status as the number 1 ODI team. Although many of us have still to come out of the nostalgia, 3 years have passed pretty quickly after that, and the Indian team has experienced a lot of crests and troughs. Months after winning the World Cup and giving Indian legend Sachin Tendulkar’s glittering ODI career its greatest moment, the very same team went abroad on to successive tours of England and Australia, getting drenched — owing to defeats in both Tests and ODI’s.
Maybe that is still the reason why many think India may not be able to defend the coveted trophy in this coming World Cup. However, brushing aside speculations that India may not be able to win the trophy once more (which will be held Down Under), India (since winning the CWC 11) have managed to win the Champions Trophy in 2013, confirming MS Dhoni’s iconic status as one of the great minds to have ever played the ODI format. If India are still hapless in Test cricket abroad, one should not make the mistake of thinking the men in the blue jersey as being underdogs abroad in ODI cricket. India gave a strong reply some days ago when they destroyed England on their home turf in the recently concluded ODI series (winning it 3-1 in the process); assuring pundits that Test cricket failure has not affected the ODI team in any negative way.
So what are India’s success stories Down Under in ODI cricket? Although I was not even born that time, many cricket lovers from the earlier generation recall India’s triumph in the 1985 Benson and Hedges World Championship (which took place in Australia) crowning Ravi Shastri as the “Champion of Champions”. In recent memory however, the finest Indian ODI moment Down Under has to be the CB Series win in 2008, under the aggressive leadership of MS Dhoni. A rejuvenated Sachin Tendulkar guided India to their first ever CB Series win in Australia, aided aptly by bowlers like RP Singh and Praveen Kumar, and the newcomer Rohit Sharma. One must remember however, that 6 long years have passed since then, and many legends have left the game, leaving huge boots to fill for the youngsters who have followed. India’s traditional fragility against bouncy and pacey bowling is well known, and it will not be easy to get the job done. The great batsmen for India have been those who thought out the counter against the venomous bounce and the zipping pace of Australian pitches.
However, in more recent memory, the Indians seem to have developed some kind of a counter-strategy in playing the short ball (still not the swinging delivery). For example, Suresh Raina, dubbed earlier as a short-ball bunny, has learnt pretty well to keep his hooking instincts in check and leave the ball as and when required. There are many more positives also: Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni and Rohit Sharma are all known as good players of the short and pacey delivery. The current wretched form through which Virat Kohli has been going through may make us think the opposite, but judging from India’s last tour of Austrlia in 2011-12, he was the only centurion in the Indian squad amidst a haggering 4-0 defeat (a wonderful century in Adelaide) and also played superb knocks in the CB Series. Most have still not forgotten his unbelievable knock of 133 not out against Sri Lanka in Hobart, where India chased down 320 within 40 overs! India’s opening slots have been a kind of worry in the recent years, after famous pairs like Tendulkar-Ganguly, Tendulkar-Sehwag and Sehwag-Gambhir played in those two positions.
Rohit Sharma seems to have done a world of good once he was promoted to open the batting line-up; it resulted in match-winning knocks and even a ODI double hundred. Though many would argue that those were all fine in home grounds and Australia is a whole different ball game, only time will tell us how well he fares there. His opening partner has been quite variable, due to the very reason that talented strikers of the ball like Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay and Gautam Gambhir have long been out of form. Dhawan made a glittering start to his Test career and eventually picked up the confidence in ODIs as well, while Murali Vijay has grown in reputation after his gritty play in the earlier half of the Test series India played recently versus England. Ajinkya Rahane, another extremely talented batsman, has been a shade inconsistent in delivering with the bat; although he can also partner Rohit in the upcoming tournament. Moreover, there is also an ambitious performer in Ambati Rayadu, who seems calm and composed on the cricket field and eager to win matches for his country. Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni follow in the batting order; their duet has won India numerous matches and saved the team from many difficult situations.
Suresh Raina has always been considered as one of the most useful batsmen in current ODI cricket; he can play according to the situation and can explode if necessary. More so is India’s talismanic captain, MS Dhoni, who seems to turn anything and everything into gold on his day. The real worry remains, however, in India’s inconsistent and erratic bowling; spinners experiment too much on non-spinning tracks, while the pacers simply lack the pace and bounce which bowlers like Mitchell Johnson generate at ease. Onus will be on Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron as they are the only ones who can consistently hit the 140 kmph mark. Yadav’s inconsistency and vulnerability to injury can be a problem, but he may be a key man on the Aussie wickets. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, often an unsung hero of the Indian team, can swing the ball both ways and trouble most batsmen. Also, he has played effective knocks quite regularly in the past, displaying his prowess with the willow in his hand as well. Ravi Ashwin sometimes seems to be a weak link; he tries too much and often forgets his strength: the classic off-spin delivery.
Hopefully, the Indian team will deter its negatives away and shine on the days that matter the most. For, the greatest of teams are those which know their flaws and hone their strengths. Can India defend the upcoming World Cup? We have to wait another year to know that.
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