World Cup 2015: Now or never…

By: | Published: February 8, 2015 12:01 AM

The new hashtag says, ‘we won’t give it back’. But India’s ODI record overseas over the past 14 months looks dismal...

The new hashtag says, ‘we won’t give it back’. But India’s ODI record overseas over the past 14 months looks dismal. Can they retain the Cup?

Out of their comfort zone and designer dustbowls, this Indian team becomes tentative. They lose their mojo. Little wonder then that South Africa had given them a hiding in their backyard, New Zealand flattened them on home soil and Australia made short work of them Down Under. All happened between December 2013 and January this year. A 3-1 one-day international (ODI) series win in England last summer was the only silver lining. India are the defending world champions, but do they start as title contenders?

The format of this World Cup, starting February 14, ensures all top teams have a free ride to the quarter-finals. After that, it’s down to three good days. Yes, India still have a chance.

The build-up to the 2003 World Cup in South Africa was almost similar. India had arrived at Johannesburg on the heels of a poor series in New Zealand. They faced Ricky Ponting’s Australia and capitulated (125 all-out). Then came the turnaround. ‘Now or never’ became the team mantra. India reached the final and finished second-best only to Ponting’s invincibles. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his boys can take a cue from their predecessors.

Sourav Ganguly, who led India in 2003, puts things in perspective. “We might have had a bad tour of New Zealand, but the lead-up, otherwise, was very good. We won almost everywhere, in the West Indies, England. We became the joint winners of the Champions Trophy… I led a team of champions,” he says.

Ganguly, however, refused to rule out India’s chances in this World Cup. “If you look at India’s performance in the ICC events over the last few years, it’s excellent. They’re a big-event team. Also, there’s a difference between playing Australia in their lair for over two months and facing Pakistan at Adelaide Oval. In fact, India would be better prepared. And make no mistake, MS Dhoni under pressure is a different player.”

Indeed, India’s record has been fabulous in big tournaments, starting from the 2007 World T20. They won the inaugural championship, went on to win the 50-overs World Cup in 2011, annexed the Champions Trophy in England in 2013 and finished runners-up in the World T20 in Bangladesh last year. Write them off at your own peril.

India’s preparation this time hasn’t been very good. Apart from the overseas losses, there have been fitness issues. Less than a week to go, but uncertainty looms over Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s participation. The former is nursing a knee injury, while Bhuvneshwar has a bad ankle. A fitness test is scheduled on February 7 and failures to hit the straps would be a setback. Without the two, the seam attack becomes callow. The International Cricket Council (ICC) would be in charge of pitch preparations, which, perhaps, makes things a bit comfortable for India. Remember the way the Edgbaston strip had started to turn square during the Champions Trophy final! Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel will hope that this time, too, they get some purchase. They’ve been poor away from home in the run-up to the World Cup.

Ashwin has taken 11 wickets at 61.27 in the 14 matches he played on foreign soil between December 1, 2013, and January 31, 2015. Ravindra Jadeja’s tally is 12 wickets at 49.08 in 14 matches. Young Axar Patel is the new kid on the block, but his accuracy might tilt the balance in his favour. Javagal Srinath feels fast bowlers would be the key to India’s success. He wants three fast bowlers to bowl well consistently. The former India quick is asking for too much. Three! India barely have one to do the job.

Australia and New Zealand are co-hosting the event and both teams are well covered in the fast bowling department. South Africa have Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. England have Jimmy Anderson. Even Sri Lanka can boast of a Lasith Malinga. India’s attack doesn’t inspire confidence.

In the end, however, it would be down to the batters. On paper, the team has a formidable line-up with Virat Kohli leading the charge, flanked by Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina. They’ve a top finisher in their captain down the order. Here’s a look at how the batters have performed overseas in the past 14 months. The period is once again between December 1, 2013, and January 31, 2015.

Virat Kohli: 15 matches, 524 runs, two centuries, average 43.66.
Shikhar Dhawan: 14 matches, 286 runs, highest score 97 not out, average 23.83.
Ajinkya Rahane: 16 matches, 431 runs, one century, average 28.73.
Suresh Raina: 15 matches, 412 runs, one century, average 37.45.
Ambati Rayudu: 10 matches, 224 runs, highest score 64 not out, average 37.33.
Rohit Sharma: 11 matches, 393 runs, one century, average 39.30.
MS Dhoni: 14 matches, 456 runs, highest score 79 not out, average 50.66.

The selectors have made a blunder by not including Murali Vijay, but the tournament is upon us and it’s time to roll over the mistakes and failures. Now or never…

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