Seven reasons why India may find it difficult to keep the World Cup
If cricket were boxing, India would have been disqualified long back for repeatedly knocking out opponents belonging to lower weight classes.WorldCup2015 Updated: Mar 21, 2015 22:07 IST
Getting ahead of yourself? Here's why you should not. There is plenty of historical evidence to suggest that India will not go on to defend their World Cup title--or, for that matter, make it to the summit clash.
Punching below their weight
If cricket were boxing, India would have been disqualified long back for repeatedly knocking out opponents belonging to lower weight classes. Think two lightweights too worn out from sparring in their own corners to put up much of a fight elsewhere (West Indies, Pakistan), two perennial featherweights (Zimbabwe, Bangladesh), one bantamweight (Ireland) and one flyweight (UAE). Those are six of the seven teams India have beaten so far in this World Cup, teams that are ranked 7th to 14th in the ICC ODI Championship's ranking table. Even South Africa are third to India's second. In the semis, though, Mahi's men are up against the only team ranked higher than them--and that too in their opponents' backyard.
Nine out of nine? Improbable
All good things come to end. Like winning streaks of cricketing teams. Australia ran out of steam after 21 wins, a sequence that included them winning the World Cup in 2003. India have never strung together half as many--the best they have managed is nine. If they end up successfully defending their World Cup title, the Men in Blue would have equalled that--not in the subcontinent over a period of four months against just two teams like they did in 2008-09 (five against a visiting England side, four against hosts Sri Lanka), but Down Under, against eight or nine different teams, all within a relatively short span of 44 days. That's a long shot. But first...
Eight in a row? Unlikely
To reach the final, India first need to win their semifinal and make it eight in a row. They have done that before. In 2013, starting with a tri-series in the Caribbean also involving Sri Lanka and ending with a five-ODI series in Zimbabwe. In 2006, four each against hosts Pakistan and a visiting England side. In 2003, during the World Cup in South Africa, a sequence that included beating Zimbabwe, Namibia and Kenya (twice). In 1985, spanning the World Championship of Cricket Down Under (the one where Ravi Shastri won an Audi), a quadrangular in Sharjah and a series against hosts Sri Lanka. This time, though, India are up against it.
Semis and Sydney: a deadly combo
Australia have lost two out of six World Cup finals and one out of three quarterfinals. But how many times have they crashed out in the semis? Zero, out of six. If that's not bad enough, it's been two years since Australia last lost an ODI at home at a venue other than Perth, three since the Baggy Greens did so in Sydney and seven since they lost to India there. Overall, Australia have won 82 out of 125 matches at the SCG--that's a winning rate of 65.6%, or a success rate of 68% (no results count as half wins). Against India, the figures climb to 85.7% and 89.3%, respectively, as 12 out of 14 matches between the sides at the SCG have gone the home team's way.
Just like home? Not really
It is reputed to be the most spin-friendly venue Down Under. South Africa--known for their battery of pacers including, among others, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel--saw their slow bowlers make merry against, of all teams, Sri Lanka in the first quarterfinal at this very venue, Imran Tahir scalping four and JP Duminy claiming a hat-trick. India, however, have a woeful track record in Sydney, having lost 12 of 17 matches. In fact, apart from that lone win against Australia in March 2008, India have won only three, all at the expense of neutrals (England, NZ and Pakistan). While Mahi's men were saved by the weather gods on Republic Day/Australia Day from another mauling by the hosts, it is highly unlikely that rain will wash out play on both the scheduled day as well as the reserve day.
No wake-up call
Sure, there are teams who have had the perfect World Cup - teams who won every match while going on to lift the coveted trophy. West Indies did it in the inaugural edition; in the modern era, Australia have pulled off the feat at two successive World Cups - in 2003 and 2007. Technically, Sri Lanka did too, but they won two matches by walkover during their win in 1996. Both of India's triumphs have involved wake-up calls. Back in 1983, Kapil's Devils lost to Australia and West Indies in the double round-robin group stage. Four years ago, Mahi's men could only tie with an England side that was average at best, and went down to South Africa. In fact...
Peaking too soon
India didn't top their group in 2011; South Africa did. India didn't even top their group in 1983; back then, it was West Indies. In fact, of the 10 World Cups so far, five have been won by a team that did not peak in the preliminary stage. In a format with few checks and balances, one off day is all it takes to knock a team out no matter how well they have been doing. Cases in point - New Zealand circa 1992, where they topped the group stage only to crash out in the semifinals to a side that had progressed by the skin of its teeth, and South Africa, in 1996 as well as four years ago. Of course, like Rahul Dravid pointed out with the mic in hand, better to peak early than not peak at all. Isn't that right, Nasser Hussain and England?