Is it absorbing pressure or mounting it, MS Dhoni?
It is not easy to please Indian cricket fans; they are too demanding. Not many seem to be willing to wager on the team winning the 2015 World Cup – they may well settle for a victory over Pakistan in their opening match at Adelaide on Sunday.
On the eve of the match, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni tried to assure the fans, saying his players can absorb pressure as they have calm nerves and they have big-match temperament.
Dhoni's logic is that the pressure-cooker situations in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and also playing in front of big crowds have prepared his team for the World Cup.
What Dhoni does not seem to realise is that it is not absorbing pressure, it is more mounting it on the opponents. New Zealand and Australia have showed how a team can bat the opposition out of the game.
Ironically, both were invited to bat first by the overcautious Sri Lanka at Christchurch and England at Melbourne. By the end of the first Power Play, the matches were more or less settled with the required rate touching Twenty20 proportions.
Both New Zealand (331) and Australia (342) have raised totals that might tempt other teams to bat straightaway after winning the toss and found pitches playing tricks when they bowled in the evening session. India can think of the matches when they set as well as chase down the targets to beat Pakistan.
When the World Cup was played in the Antipodes 23 years ago, India defended 216 by bowling Pakistan out for 173. Those were the days when any total upwards of 220 was considered defendable. That began a sequence of India winning every time they played Pakistan in any World Cup, be it 50-over or Twenty20.
Dhoni might feel better off bowling first to give his not-so-potent attack the first use of the track. But then at Adelaide, the spinners might be in a better position to use the pitch. It is going to be a big decision for the two captains.
Even the usually not forgiving former India captains are willing to put their money on the national side, but not the media. Many cite the team's performance in the series Down Under in the run up to the World Cup for their apprehensions.
Yet, India could not have asked for a better format and draw. Many in the cricket world believe that the format was tweaked only to make sure India stayed in contention till the business end of the tournament. The International Cricket Council (ICC) does not want India to go out before the knockouts, a repeat of the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean.
India should be happy that Pakistan will be out of their way straightaway. For all practical purposes it is going to be the key game for more reasons than one. A win will definitely put them on the road to the knockouts.
After that India will only need two more good days of cricket to win the Cup. Don't forget India are the defending champions and Dhoni is the only captain who knows what it means to be winning it, even if they are not the favourites.
Any number of doubts can be raised for India not winning, the pertinent ones are:
- Can the bowling transform itself into a potent force after looking so pedestrian in Tests as well as in the One-Day Internationals (ODI)?
- Can the batting make up for the bowling shortfall with no real match-winning bowler?
- Can the fielders pick themselves up from a state which suggested that they have slipped back to the olden days when they were rated the worst in international cricket?
- Can the players rally round their captain, like they did for Tendulkar to leave the international cricket scene winning the World Cup?
- Finally does Dhoni have the motivation or inclination to carry the team in what could probably be the last World Cup for him?
Questions can be unending when you don't want to look at the virtues of the team. One thing is for sure, India are not playing at home on pitches that gave them a clear edge four years ago.
There is no point going into the capabilities of individuals with the match hours away. The players know what is expected of them and if most of the doubt-boxes are ticked then you have the answer whether India can win the Cup.
Most critics think that India will find it difficult to cope with the bounce of the pitches in Australia and the seaming conditions in New Zealand. But then every team exploits the home conditions just as India did in 2011.
Naturally, this time round, co-hosts Australia and New Zealand are the favourites in the shortlist of bookies and the pundits. They should be since they are playing in familiar conditions but that does not automatically present them the Cup.
Remember, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand are rated good to win the Cup only because they did exceedingly well playing at home ahead of the mega event. India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka struggled in alien conditions but surely they would have gained a lot of experience.