Rohit invokes ‘unfinished business’ as India kick off World Cup campaign
The hosts take on Australia in their opening game at Chepauk on Sunday in their quest to end a 12-year wait for an ICC World Cup
India and Australia have played each other six times this year in ODIs. All of them in India. The last of those meetings was just ten days ago. So, whatever happens at Chepauk, there will be very little novelty or surprise in store. And yet, Sunday promises to be different. It can result in a special performance lingering in our memory for long; turn sidekicks into heroes. Simply because it’s the ODI World Cup, still the tournament that’s the pinnacle of white-ball cricket for most players.
“Yeah, it means a lot. It's a huge honour to be part of this World Cup team, firstly, and then being the captain,” India skipper Rohit Sharma said at the pre-match press conference on Saturday. “The 50-over World Cup is the biggest event in cricket. So, for me, this is the biggest event that I will be part of.”
Sharma even spoke of “unfinished business”, drawing a parallel with Sachin Tendulkar’s quest to win the 2011 World Cup at home without mentioning his name. Sharma was a youngster then and wasn't picked in the squad that lifted the trophy under the Mumbai night sky. Now 36 and in the final phase of his career, he has reached two ODI World Cup semi-finals since without getting over the line.
“Yeah look, you heard the great man say so many times that until he wins the World Cup, he's got a bit of unfinished business. I'm sure you know who I'm talking about. So, it's the same for us as well,” he said. “You want to win the World Cup, It’s the biggest prize that you can have in your career. But again, there’s a way to do it. In desperation, you can do so many things that can lead to so many other things as well. So, it’s good to be desperate. It’s good to be hungry. But you've got to find that balance.”
In the days leading up to their opening game, India seem to have struck that balance. They trained at full intensity in sultry conditions on Thursday and Friday before taking it easy as expected on match eve. Only Sharma, Shardul Thakur and Kuldeep Yadav practised on Saturday. “The mood is pretty good as it is before the start of every big tournament. We've come into this tournament prepared really well, so quite confident about us skill-wise.”
The setback is Shubman Gill’s illness – there's been no official word on whether he has tested positive for dengue – that has left him a doubt for Sunday’s game. He has not trained in Chennai, though Sharma was not willing to say the 24-year-old is ruled out. With India unlikely to strain Gill in the Chennai humidity, Ishan Kishan seems set to open with the skipper.
“Gill is not feeling well. We are monitoring him on a daily basis. So, we’re going to give him every chance to recover and see how he feels,” he said.
For Australia, there’s uncertainty over all-rounder Marcus Stoinis, who suffered a hamstring niggle in the ODI series against India last month. “Stoinis is still touch and go. So, we’ll see,” Australia skipper Pat Cummins said.
But if any team can cope with the absence of an all-rounder, it is this format’s most successful side. Besides Stoinis, Cummins can also call upon the services of Mitchell Marsh, Cameron Green and Glenn Maxwell. “It’s a luxury. I think in one-day cricket more than any other format, you need all-rounders. So, we feel really blessed to have people like Cam Green, Mitch Marsh, Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis. They’re like gold, it means you can bat deeper, so we feel in a really good place,” the Australian pacer said.
The most instructive of their meetings this year may be the clash at this very venue in March, when Australia scored 269 and bowled out the hosts for 248 to notch up a 21-run victory. “We were slightly behind in that game,” Sharma recalled. “But we knew exactly what went wrong for us. So hopefully, we shouldn't repeat the mistake that we made in that game.”
While Sharma expects the conditions to be pretty similar, the inclement weather in the lead up to this game may add a layer of uncertainty to proceedings. The pitch, wearing a shade of brown on Thursday, has been predominantly under covers over the past 48 hours.
“We still have to wait and see how it looks on match day,” said Sharma. “Because the colour of the pitch changes quite a lot here.”
Not that it will faze Cummins and Australia. “It’s no doubt helpful playing a lot here, not only for Australia but in IPL. I’ve probably played more white-ball cricket in India than I have in Australia over the last 10 years, so it’s conditions we know really well,” Cummins said. “And I think the positive thing is that we've played some really good one-day cricket against India over here, so we can draw upon that.”
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