Winless Australia tour leaves India vulnerable
NEW DELHI, February 7
Loaded with free-stroking batsmen but missing match-winning bowlers, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s India will look to chase down – rather than defend – the World Cup title they won four years ago.
But a miserable bilateral tour of Australia where India lost the Test series 2-0 and failed to win a match in the tri-series that also featured England, leaves the defending champions on shaky ground. Millions of fans will hope that Dhoni’s men turn their fortunes around – as they have done in the past – when they clash with arch-rivals Pakistan in their World Cup opener in Adelaide on February 15.
India went into the 2003 World Cup after a bad tour of New Zealand and still reached the final. In 2011, they won the tournament despite a lacklustre performance in South Africa.
In Rohit Sharma, the only batsman with two 200s in one-day internationals, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina and the explosive Dhoni, India possess destructive batting firepower.
But the frail bowling attack remains a worry, as was evident during the recent Test series where the hosts piled up 500-plus totals in each of the four matches.
The same seam attack comprising Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav, will feature in the World Cup alongside three frontline spinners in off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and left-armers Ravindra Jadeja and young Akshar Patel.
“Big totals are needed to win,” India’s first World Cup-winning captain Kapil Dev said. “We will be better off chasing targets rather than giving bowlers a target to defend.”
India won the title under Dhoni in 2011 with an experienced squad that included seasoned campaigners like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh.
The present side has just four players – Dhoni, Kohli, Raina and Ashwin – who were part of that winning combination, leaving the team short of World Cup experience.
The nucleus of the squad is the same which helped India win the Champions Trophy one-day tournament in England in 2013, but a power-packed batting display is needed to succeed again.
Rohit Sharma, who followed his one-day 209 against Australia in 2013 with a scintillating world record score of 264 against the West Indies last year, is expected to fire at the top of the order despite a poor Test series.
Kohli, recently appointed Test captain after Dhoni quit the longer format, is one of the finest batsmen in the modern game with 21 one-day centuries in the last five years, a testimony of his hunger for big scores.
Dhoni, the peg around whom India’s fortunes will revolve, is a leader and batsman tailor-made for limited-overs cricket whose improvised big-hitting has won many a battle for India.
A win over Pakistan in their opening match – India have never lost to their arch-rivals in the World Cup – will be the tonic Dhoni needs to revitalise the side.
India World Cup factfile
Factfile on India ahead of the 2015 World Cup to be played in Australia and New Zealand from February 14 to March 29:
Squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Capt.), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Akshar Patel, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Stuart Binny.
Coach: Duncan Fletcher
Fixtures — Pool B: Feb 15: Pakistan, Adelaide Feb 22: South Africa, Melbourne Feb 28: United Arab Emirates, Perth Mar 6: West Indies, Perth Mar 10: Ireland, Hamilton Mar 14: Zimbabwe, Auckland
World Cup record: 1975: First round 1979: First round 1983: Champions 1987: Semi-finals 1992: First round 1996: Semi-finals 1999: Super Sixes 2003: Runners-up 2007: First round 2011: Champions
Key player: Virat Kohli – The brash, arrogant youngster has matured into one of the most devastating batsmen in modern cricket and a key component of India’s World Cup campaign.
The 26-year-old smashed four centuries in the Border-Gavaskar Test series in Australia, where he also scored his first Test century on the previous visit in 2011.
In his outstanding 150-match one-day career, Kohli has already struck 21 hundreds and 33 half-centuries. One of his best one-day knocks was played in Adelaide when he hammered an astonishing 133 not out off 86 balls against Sri Lanka to help India chase down 321 in under 40 overs.
Now the Test captain after Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s retirement from the longer format, Kohli will plot India’s strategy as Dhoni’s deputy at the World Cup.