England have been in smashing form, quite literally. With eleven days to go for the start of the ICC World Cup at the traditional home of cricket, the hosts must be happy with their batsmen’s form.
In what was a series loaded in favour of the batsmen, England thumping Pakistan in three ODIs is an ominous sign of their rich talent. Mind you, for Pakistan to lose after scoring 340 is a clear sign of how wickets in England will play out this summer.
Just at this time last Sunday, Hyderabad witnessed a high voltage IPL final with Mumbai Indians edging out Chennai Super Kings for the title. The celebrations are over for Mumbai and the time has come for the Men in Blue to focus on the big challenge that the World Cup is.
The usual hype has begun, where experts, notably past cricketers, are predicting this Indian side led by Virat Kohli to do extremely well. One needs to take all these predictions with a fair amount of salt as conditions in England are not really English, in purely cricketing terms.
One is not sure why the men who govern and control world cricket are making ODIs and T20 internationals loaded in favour of the batsmen. This is a trend which began long ago and now you have teams scoring so big, to defend a total of even 350 is not easy.
Contrast this with the 1983 World Cup final which India won for the first time under Kapil Dev’s leadership, a total of 183 was a winning score. Progressions of scores in each ODI innings have been rising.
Reasons for it are not just batsmen getting better but how the nature of pitches is being altered. If England, where the bowlers’ got plenty of aid in the past, has become a batsman’s paradise, you could be sure this World Cup 50-over format will see batathons’ and bowlers suffering big time.
So, would experts still hype India, No.2 in ODI rankings behind England? It’s good to build up the hype but a certain amount of prudence is needed in understanding what is in store in England. The No.4 conundrum for India stands pronounced, though reserve opener KL Rahul says he is ready for even that role.
If one goes by the form in the IPL, India openers Rohit Sharma, who was the Mumbai Indians skipper and Shikhar Dhawan of Delhi Capitals, played well. With the Indian cricket board advocating rest and not practice for the players now, it’s important for the Indian top order to really do well in England.
There is no doubting the batsmen need to be in peak form right through the competition. The World Cup starts on May 30 but India play their first match on June 5 against strong South Africa. From there till the final on July 14, it’s going to be a long journey.
The format of this World Cup is simple in the sense you have to be playing in top gear right through the nine matches in the group stage. It’s like keep winning where the batsmen will have to show a voracious appetite. For the Indian side which boasts of world-class openers and has in Virat Kohli a batsman with a constant hunger for runs, how they keep firing will be important.
At a time when the Indian bowling has been talked of as extremely potent with a combination of genuine pace and wily spinners boasting of a good track record, the onus will be on the batsmen to lead the way. India did well in the ODI series in Australia and New Zealand, though the losses at home earlier this year were a bit disconcerting.
The best of teams in the World Cup, from England to Australia, and South Africa to West Indies are loaded with explosive batting talent. Pakistan, despite playing less international cricket compared to the other big teams are highly motivated and can do well in England.
Along with the hype comes pressure on India, a side which on paper is strong. The last time the World Cup was played in England, two decades ago, conditions were different. That side, led by Mohammad Azharuddin was a potent mix, though they lost in the Super Six stage.
It’s wrong to compare two teams of different eras but there is no doubting the current Indian side’s professionalism and fitness. They have come a long way since the eighties and nineties thanks to the demands of non-stop cricket and how the sport today demands peak fitness. There can be no excess baggage and no niggle can be hidden on the field.
As good wishes pour in for the Indian side from all quarters, one must remember the batting unit faces a huge test. And one man alone – Virat Kohli – cannot be expected to deliver day in and day out.