World Cup Predictions: Defending Champions India not the favourites, but tournament format gives them a chance
Unarguably the team with the biggest fan base and expectations to succeed, India will be looking to defend their World Cup crown in the 2015 edition in Australia/New Zealand. The MS Dhoni led-team has only 4 members from the victorious 2011 campaign, and there are concerns that a lack of experience especially in the bowling department will hurt India’s chances of retaining the Cup.
The team’s poor show in the ongoing Carlton Mid tri-series has increased doubts about the team’s prospects in the sport’s pinnacle event, and the Star Sports promos of #WeWontGiveItBack in between India’s defeats at the hands of Australia and England only made fans wonder if the team will still be the holders of the trophy on 30 March 2015 (the day after the 2015 WC Final). (The memories of the promotional campaigns by Star Sports before the India - England Test series in 2011 and 2012, and the subsequent thrashings in both series are still fresh in mind!)
But having said that, it is not all gloom for India, and as I’d pointed out in a previous article that India’s performance in an ODI series preceding the WC doesn’t necessarily reflect on the team’s result in the Cup. Besides, the team has some big names in its batting line-up who can be expected to rise to the occasion and do well in the WC and a youthful and brilliant fielding unit which is probably the best ever in the India’s ODI history.
And more importantly, in my opinion, the tournament’s format in the 2015 WC is one which will suit Dhoni’s team. Barring a really bad run in the group stage, the team should comfortably find itself qualifying for the quarter-final stage, so effectively it’s a run of 3 knockout games which will decide the winner of the WC.
We have seen in the past that the Dhoni led side has managed to raise its performance in big games where the stakes are high, and there is no reason why this team can’t do it again when it finds itself in the WC knockouts. (Need not look back any further than 2011, when India managed only one win over a top team – West Indies – in the group stage, but won the 3 knockout games to clinch the trophy.) The fact that teams like South Africa and New Zealand don’t have a very good record in the knockout stages of the WCs can help India’s cause.
Best-Case and Worst-Case Scenarios
With 3 relatively weaker teams - Zimbabwe, Ireland and UAE part of the 7-team Pool B, along with an unsettled West Indies side (due to player-board disputes), it can be assumed with reasonable confidence that India will finish in the top 4 in the group, and hence qualify for the quarterfinals.
The likely opponents for India in the quarterfinal stage are either New Zealand or Sri Lanka – both top teams who will provide a stiff challenge to the side. In case India have to play New Zealand, it’ll definitely be on Kiwis’ home ground, as per the tournament rules, and with the home advantage and recent form, the Kiwis will be the favourites.
If India do manage to cross the hurdle at the quarterfinals stage, the ability of Dhoni’s side to raise the level of their game in crucial matches (which I mentioned above) will mean that India will be considered strong challengers for the trophy and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if they do go on to defend the title.
|Worst-case Scenario||Exit after the Quarterfinals stage|
Looking at the squad for the WC, the best playing XI on paper will be:
Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma
However, the prolonged bad form of Dhawan is definitely a cause of concern and so is the inconsistency and inexperience of the pacers. In case Dhawan loses favour with the team management, it may be worthwhile exploring Ian Chappell’s suggestion of opening the batting with Stuart Binny, who has shown that he has a sound batting technique and will also give another seam bowling option to Dhoni.
In this scenario, India will have the option of bolstering the depth in batting by playing Rayudu at number 7 and the line-up that I’ll suggest will be:
Rohit Sharma, Stuart Binny, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni, Ambati Rayudu/Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma
Virat Kohli: As, the team’s best batsman and arguably the biggest hope in the quest to defend the trophy, Kohli will need to have an excellent tournament for India to do well. There have been many comparisons of Kohli with Sachin Tendulkar, and Kohli will be keen to match the WC run-scoring feats of the Indian legend.
While the team management’s decision of playing him at number 4 to strengthen the middle-order does make sense, I still feel that the team’s best player should be played at his best position, which is number 3, at which he is likely to get more batting time.
MS Dhoni: He has his critics, but if history is any proof, Dhoni is someone who knows how to get the job done and lead India to glory. With an inexperienced bowling attack at his disposal, skipper Dhoni will have to marshal his resources wisely and the batsman Dhoni will be required to contribute in the lower middle order – as a finisher during chases (at which he is one of the best in the world), as an accelerator after a good show by the top order, and as an accumulator in case the top-order gets dismissed early.
Rohit Sharma: Another player who has his critics, but there is no denying Rohit’s talent and ability to score big if he gets set. The two ODI double centuries and the century in the ongoing tri-series are proof of that. Rohit has been guilty of throwing away his wicket and being too casual in his approach very often and India will hope that he can keep that in check during the WC and showcase his talent at cricket’s marquee event.
The Indian team isn’t among the tournament favourites, which the marketers are trying to make us believe. But given the tournament format, the chances, of the team successfully defending their 2011 trophy, aren’t as improbable as what some critics think to be.
With some cautious optimism I hope that the team will raise its game after some poor performances recently, and maybe a hero will emerge (like Yuvraj in 2011) who will inspire the team to success in the 2015 World Cup.