Countdown to World Cup begins; is Team India ready for the challenge?

  • N Ananthanarayanan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Nov 09, 2014 12:14 IST

If India's World Cup planners are looking to put together the perfect formula for a successful title defence in Australia and New Zealand, they will hardly need notes from external sources. If learning from history is all it takes, they will hit the ground running when they square up against arch-rivals Pakistan on February 14, a day after the tournament kicks off.

With just under 100 days left for the big event, the situation is strikingly similar to the past. In 1983, they came off a tough five-Test series in West Indies with a creditable 0-2 defeat. The confidence helped as they toppled the mighty Caribbean side to triumph in the Cup final at Lord's. Fast forward to 1991-92, and struggles in the long-drawn Test and tri-series in Australia left India floundering in the World Cup. Their only consolation was defeating Pakistan, the eventual winners.

In 2003, the batting flopped on seaming pitches in New Zealand, but the tide turned after a slow start in southern Africa as they went all the way to the final, only to run into Australia.

The action between now and the tournament, seems to hold the key. The tough four-Test series in Australia followed by a Tri-series will throw up accurate indicators. The schedule this time is less taxing than in 1992 when they played five Tests and the tri-series in between, though the prospect of non-stop cricket all the way till the IPL ends in May can be daunting.

Early favourites

The twice champions are very much in the reckoning. "India are there with Australia and South Africa as favourites. New Zealand will be the dark horses," said two members of the 1983 World Cup side, Madan Lal and Balwinder Singh Sandhu.

Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni's acumen as One-day captain brightens the forecast. The 14 teams being divided into two groups with the top four qualifying for the quarterfinal means reaching the knockouts is unlikely to be an issue. However, adapting to Australian conditions will be the key.

Australian pitches will afford bounce - South Africa in late 2013 and in New Zealand early this year, losing six of eight ODIs - but World Cup surfaces could be tailor-made for batting. "The pitches will be good to bat because for commercial reasons you can't have matches finishing in 70 overs," said Sandhu.

Vital man

Former Australia greats believe India's fortunes could be impacted by one man who has given more grief than joy to fans. At a recent cricket seminar in Delhi, they felt Ishant Sharma's height, experience and ability to hit the deck could make all the difference.

Ricky Ponting said: "The Indian fast bowlers will probably struggle in Australia (in the Tests) as much as anything, that might be the biggest issue." But Allan Border said: "Ishant might be the key figure if he is not injured." His career best four-wicket haul in the first ODI against Sri Lanka suggests the rhythm was good.

Skills apart frustration has been a constant companion for Indian bowlers as fielders have let them down. Catching is a big worry, and on bouncy pitches, the close cordon can't let things slip the way they did in England, where India were punished with a 1-3 Test series defeat.

Former India coach Madan Lal said: "There is lot of talk about bowling, but I feel they will manage, provided there is good support from the fielders. It's the batsmen who have been vulnerable outside the sub-continent."

Former India opener WV Raman believes India will be front-runners, but preparation will be vital. "The way the team has performed in the last few years, there is no doubt we will start more than strong favourites. The one thing that needs to be sorted out is the death bowling, but there is time."

Hard cricket in Australia will mould the unit. "They will get into the competitive zone. Whatever happens in the Test series, the players would have got the feel of the conditions. And compartmentalisation, without ruminating too much (about future games or tournaments), is important. They did that in England, winning the ODI series after losing the Tests."

The debate will pick up by the day.

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