Saturday, February 14, 2015

World Cup Opener, Befitting The Championship

Second time, second time India will start their world cup campaign as the defending champs. Last time, it was twenty seven years back. Then, India had forced the cricket authorities to look beyond the mother country and move to the subcontinent. I still remember the excitement we Indian fans had; dual excitement of having first ever major world sporting event in the most popular game of the country and a great opportunity for the home team to defend it's crown and prove to all, themselves included, that their win in 1983 was no fluke. India then was so overwhelming, sentimental favorite to retain the crown that every one was thinking about their opponent at the Eden gardens on the final day..there was no doubt about  playing in the finals. What happened then is history; disappointment at India's defeat by Graham Gooch's sweeping bat, almost single handedly, was palpable even months later. Indian cricket plunged into a deep disappointment. Subsequent world cups brought similar disappointments in terms of overall performance in the tournaments with only one shining beacon....wins against the arch rival Pakistan. What started in 1991 world cup has continued right through to last event. India has beaten Pakistan on six consecutive occasions and has established a kind of supremacy that Pakistan had established over India in Sharjah after the famous 'last ball six' victory from Miandad's blade. Whatever happens in other tournaments or series against each other, India has got better of Pakistan in the world cup games.

The world cup of 2015 will start for both the teames with a bang. Biggest game for both the teams will be the first of the tournament. In many ways, it will be a defining game for both the teams. The outcome of this game will set sail for both the teams giving them confidence to move forward in the tournament. It is rare to see the major teams taking on each other in first game  itself; Australia v England, New Zealand v Sri Lanka and India v Pakistan. Normally major teams warm up with games against minnows. This should be a testing opening for all major teams, with an opportunity to relax midway through the fixtures against minnows, before moving to knock out stage. This should make it an interesting scheduling for all major teams. There is a good chance that the so called minnows may take a scalp or two if any major team has a bad day. Ability to play consistently well will be tested .

Re. India v Pakistan game; while history indicates a kind of dominance India had established, due to India' poor returns on Australian soil to date, will definitely give Pakistan some heart. Pakistan has returned to the continent where they have won the only world cup title. While that should bring hope, it would be interesting to see if they are able to break the hoodoo. India on the other hand will draw strength and more importantly, hope from the history, since their bowl so far on the tour has been quite empty. However, there is plenty for India to draw confidence from their performance in test matches against Australia. Their hapless blowing in test matches where taking twenty wickets was a must to win, will to some extent feel they are in the game if they can bowl dot balls. Dhoni's captainship which often looks clueless in taking wickets, can be different when pressure of limited overs can force batsmen to make mistakes.India will have to depend upon opponents mistakes more than their own ability to win.

I believe, while India appears disjointed and does not inspire a lot of confidence in their ability to win, their experience of winning major tournaments should come to the fore at the crunch time. The team is young for test cricket but has plenty of experience in limited overs version and some champion players. I believe in many ways it is best that they are playing Pakistan first up..it should force them to wake up. The passion of playing against Pakistan should bring out the best from them and put them on a path to self belief. Conversely even if they loose, they will have dispensed with psychologically most important game of the tournament and can force them to bring out their best being pushed against the wall...often India produce their best under such condition.

Whatever the outcome of India v Pakistan game, I would be happy if India reach semi-finals. Winning against Pakistan is good but not ultimate. GO INDIA!!

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