The Indian team's performance in the recently concluded tri-series in Australia was extremely disappointing. Are we heading into the World Cup only to make up the numbers? Many say so.
A few insiders who still say India can do well are being dismissed as "paid media". And, why not? Fans and followers have every right to be sceptical of comment from people having a financial relationship with the BCCI.
Under the present circumstances, would it be foolhardy to even venture to suggest that India can do well in the World Cup? Probably not because certain insights emerge if one sits back for a bit of microanalysis.
Firstly, what is pertinent about the tri-series is India batted first in all three matches it played. In two of those, the team chose to bat first. For some time now, India have been among the best chasers. Yet, the decision to bat first!
Is it because captain MS Dhoni wanted to see how the team would do? Was it experimentation at work because a loss in the tri-series will not be as costly as one in the World Cup? We won't know, but one can always rationalise, which humans (and cricket fans) are good at.
Secondly, the tri-series may have given us our perfect opening combination, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane.
Shikhar Dhawan seems to have been sorted out by bowlers. If so, it's better he fails in the run-up to the World Cup than in it.
Thirdly, the tri-series came at the end of a tiring tour and the players looked jaded. Well, a logical argument can be that the same tiredness may continue. Conversely, it can be argued that the exit from the tri-series may allow them to breathe deeply, chill and come back rejuvenated for the World Cup.
Now, why is it that despite the recent tri-series horror, one still feels India can do well at the World Cup?
The first reason is the format. Of our six pool (Pool B) matches, three are tough ones: versus Pakistan, South Africa and West Indies.
The other three are easier matches (unless we find ways to shock the world): versus UAE, Ireland and Zimbabwe.
It is almost a certainty that the top four teams (on paper) from both pools will go through to the quarter-finals. That's smooth sailing for India.
Floaters such as Bangladesh and even Afghanistan are in the other group. Therefore making the QF is almost a formality.
In the QF, the opposition will be from the other pool. That works fine. Good luck to whoever meets South Africa and West Indies.
On his day, Chris Gayle can knockout any team and it will be in India's favour if he does it to a tough side early on, namely the quarters. The same logic goes for South Africa.
India's possible QF opponents are Australia, New Zealand, England and Sri Lanka.
England, written off by some, showed in the tri-series they are worthy opponents. In James Anderson, Steven Finn, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Ravi Bopara, and Jos Buttler, they have players capable of destroying any team, with batting as well as bowling.
Sri Lanka are pedigreed and would want to give a remarkable sendoff to their special duo of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. Let's not forget, they have been runners-up in the last two World Cups.
Australia do not need elaboration and New Zealand have over the last year turned themselves into formidable opponents.
Yet, the heart still believes India can make it good. It is simple: it is a question of who will hold nerves the best for three successive matches in the knockout.
If match-winners have to come to fore, the knockouts is the stage. Who are the ones from India?
They would be Rahane, Rohit, Virat Kohli, Dhoni and Suresh Raina. Yes, I will include Raina in the list because in ODIs he is capable of scintillating stuff.
If any two of these can excel on each of the three days, India can give others a run for their money.
The bowling is weak hence India must go in with five bowlers. Open with Rahane and Rohit, send Virat at number 3 as that is where we can see the best of him.
Here comes the surprise. Dhoni can come in at number 4 and Raina at 5.
Dhawan or Ambati Rayudu can come in at number 6 followed by Stuart Binny at 7. Two spinners and two fast bowlers complete the XI.
Virat, Raina and Rohit will have to do the part-time bowling job if required.
I strongly feel Dhoni has to come in earlier and play with more freedom. He can do wonders and here it's just a question of three crucial days. (Well, all seven knockout matches are day-night affairs, but in India they will all be day affairs.)
If Dhoni pulls it off, he goes from hero to legend.
It all boils down to one simple statement of fact. India can win if the have three outstanding days. And, one bad day in the knockouts is fatal.
If the more favoured teams have a bad day; if the swashbuckling Gayle or unpredictable Pakistan knock off a more fancied team; if our batting heroes click on all three crucial days; if we are lucky with toss and get to chase, sigh!
You know the problem. Yes, there are too many ifs.
Therefore, our retaining the World Cup is not impossible, it is improbable.
(Views expressed by the writer are personal. If you want to share your thoughts on the game, mail your write-ups to firstname.lastname@example.org)
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