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India begin hunt for second World Cup

cricket Updated: Mar 17, 2007 14:11 IST
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Chutney songs based on Bhojpuri folk, with a smattering of Hindi, sung to Calypso beats, blare at the Queen’s Park Oval through the day. They alternate with the playing of a steel band — using a ‘steel pan’, a unique musical invention of the Trinidadians. The ground, when filled to capacity, gives the impression that a carnival is on, not a game of cricket.

When India play their first match against Bangladesh in Trinidad on Saturday, it will be the beginning of a long and arduous journey, the ultimate destination of which is, of course, the World Cup. The atmosphere at the stadium will be noisy, cheerful, raucous, but the players will not mind at all, as long as the audience is rooting for them.

Statistics, world rankings and the odds say India will be lucky to make the semifinals, but in a tournament of this nature where luck and form on a given day play a huge part in deciding who wins and who loses, anything is possible.

But before one delves too seriously into India’s chances in the tournament, a word of caution. Do not count your chickens before they hatch. We might already be focusing on the Super Eight, but to ignore the group matches will be perilous.

In India's group are Bangladesh, Bermuda and Sri Lanka. Most believe India and Lanka will qualify for the next stage with ease.

But such thinking could be a mistake. Bangladesh could throw the tournament into a tailspin. After beating New Zealand in a warm-up game, the team's self-belief is sky high. Skipper Habibul Bashar's body language, when he met the press a couple of days later, conveyed this clearly.

The self-assurance is not a put on to fool opponents. Bangladesh, after a barren, win-less stretch till 2005, have suddenly metamorphosed. Since then they have not lost to any associate team and have even beaten Australia and Sri Lanka.

According to those who have followed Bangladesh cricket closely, the present team brims with a new confidence, and does not get overawed by the thought of playing a top-ranked Test-playing nation. They have a few youngsters like batsmen Aftab Ahmad and Shariyar Nafees and bowlers like the veteran Mashrafe Bin Murtaza, who, on his day, can be a match winner.

India have a tough game at hand and under no circumstances should they walk into the ground imagining they can win effortlessly. It is not as if they do not know this. Rahul Dravid is too down-to-earth and too much of a perfectionist to think that all he needs to do is to don the India blues and the match is his for the taking.

Already the Indians will be reassessing their strategy, given the way the wicket here behaved in the Sri Lanka-Bermuda match. It was firm and had a bit of grass. In the morning it should help the seamers. But the firmness of the wicket also means that the ball will come on to the bat, and if the batsmen survive the opening spell, there are plenty of runs in it.

It is unlikely that the team will entertain any thought of playing both its spinners. A 7-4 combination (three pacemen, one spinner) is likely. Where this leaves Irfan Pathan is not clear. If the team goes in with only four bowlers, playing Pathan could be fraught with risk, especially if the spinners do not get to play a major role.

But these problems should be left to the captain to sort out. All we look forward to in the next couple of months is a spirited, fighting display. The results can take care of themselves.