Even considering that the first phase of the World Cup was essentially an exercise to separate the wheat from the chaff, it is mission accomplished for India.
The defending champions looked a disjointed and fatigued lot going into the tournament after a winless run in the bilateral and tri-series matches in Australia. But Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side remarkably found their feet early on, never looking back after winning the emotionally draining match against Pakistan.
There were many areas of concern for India, but as they signed off the group stage with an all-win record — the final game against Zimbabwe in Auckland tested their nerves and depth — they had ticked most of the boxes. The pace trio of Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma has collectively delivered almost every time while off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin has been a different deal.
Suresh Raina and Dhoni too have now demonstrated that their finishing touch is intact, which leaves only opener Rohit Sharma and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja needing to raise their game. India have more often than not been regarded as a team that rises and falls with its batsmen. But their bowlers have helped erase that image by bowling out the opposition in every match.
From now on, it will be a different tournament for them.
If India win the next three matches, they will emulate the West Indies and Australia as the teams to retain the cup. But at this point they can’t look beyond the quarterfinal as Bangladesh are brimming with confidence and have shown maturity in executing tactics and skills. The conditions in the tournament have also given the weaker teams an even chance to compete.
If India defeat Bangladesh in Melbourne on Thursday, as they are expected to, the semifinal shootout could be against Australia, seen by most as the title favourites. The best part of India’s campaign has been their ability to find answers in tricky situations every time. Here on, it will be about refining their approach as well as winning the mental battles.