2015 World Cup: Defending champions India down but not out
Adelaide, Feb 13 - India are the defending champions. They are also one of the favourites. But a poor tour of Australia has shaken the belief of many that the No.2 side in One-Day International (ODI) cricket will be able to retain cricket's most eminent title.
The Indian team has been Down Under since November 2014 but failed to win even a single match - whether in Tests or ODIs. They tasted success finally in a World Cup warm-up fixture against minnows Afghanistan here on February 10, after more than two-and-a-half months.
The failure to win even a single match in the tri-series involving Australia and England, followed by a 106-run drubbing at the hands of Australia in a warm-up tie on February 8 here has certainly dented India's chances at the quadrennial event.
However, the counter to that argument would be that since the MS Dhoni-led side has been in the southern hemisphere for so long, the time spent here has certainly helped them acclimatise to the conditions.
Also, another significant thing is that India will not be playing world No.1 Australia in every match like they did during the tour. A tournament like the World Cup is more about building momentum in the league phase and qualifying for the knockouts, as it is a different ball game altogether from the quarter-finals onwards.
Also, several cricket pundits have regularly said that come what may, in today's date, India are a top ODI side.
India have been placed in Group B with South Africa, West Indies, Zimbabwe, Ireland, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and traditional rivals Pakistan, against whom they play their tournament opener at the Adelaide Oval here on Sunday.
Although Pakistan have a stronger ODI record against India, they have never been able to break the jinx of defeating their neighbours in a World Cup contest -- the last of which came four years ago in a semi-final at Mohali.
Coming to the team, India's bowling is in more than a spot of bother. With pace spearhead Ishant Sharma out of the tournament with an injury and a big question mark over the fitness of swing bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the fast bowling department is not looking good.
In the present circumstances, Mohammed Shami could prove to be the key pacer for India, considering the inexperience of Mohit Sharma and medium pacer Stuart Binny.
When it comes to spin bowling, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are proven match-winners but how much the conditions in Australia and New Zealand will suit the tweakers is another question.
The two main headaches for Dhoni are the ability to take 10 wickets and death bowling. India have lately struggled in both the areas and the situation in the World Cup where every batsman will look to give his best will certainly not help them.
Keeping that in mind, if India have to retain the World Cup, their traditional strength – batting – has to click.
On paper, India boasts one of the strongest batting line-ups. With four Indians, Virat Kohli (No.3), Shikhar Dhawan (No.7), Dhoni (No.9) and Rohit Sharma (No.13), in ICC's top 20 ODI batsmen, India can certainly give any team in the world a run for their money.
In Ajinkya Rahane and Suresh Raina, the team has a reliable middle-order and Ashwin, Jadeja and Binny are more than capable batsmen down the order.
Despite all the disadvantages, the fact remains that being the defending champions, India will be one of the favourites.
For example, they had a poor run before the 2013 Champions Trophy in England and Wales. But they came out on top in a comprehensive fashion with Dhoni becoming the first captain to win all the major International Cricket Council (ICC) tournaments, and Dhawan and Jadeja emerging as the highest run-scorer and highest wicket-taker, respectively.
India squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Mohit Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ambati Rayudu, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Stuart Binny