World Cup 2019: For India, It's Good to be Second-Favourites
In the past two years India have 11 ODI losses and 45 wins
‘Dhoni finishes off in style. A magnificent strike into the crowd! India lift the World Cup after 28 years!’ screamed Ravi Shastri on air as India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni hit the World Cup winning six over long-on to Sri Lanka speedster Nuwan Kulasekara.
What a fairytale end it was for the home crowd. Dhoni held his pose for some seconds, watching the ball, letting it sink in that it was the final moment of World Cup 2011. Yuvraj Singh began to celebrate before the ball had even crossed the boundary and the man they call Captain Cool had sealed his place in history.
Sachin’s dream of lifting the World Cup came true. The country celebrated with him. The ecstasy around the Wankhede Stadium and elsewhere became the highlight of the news.
That year India was one of three countries hosting the World Cup, and with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh in the squad, almost every cricket pundit backed the team as clear favourites to win the quadrennial mega event.
Whenever Indian players would leave for the stadium for pre-match practice, thousands of cricket fanatics would surround the team bus, chanting just one thing, ‘We want the World Cup’.
To play in cricket’s biggest tournament with that pressure of hopes, and to finish the World Cup in the way they did, was nothing short of phenomenal. Eight years have passed since then, and India finished as semi-finalists in 2015 World Cup, and now with the mega event returned to England and Wales, the quest remains the same.
But this time, the platter is served in front of the hosts, England, and India start out as, to use the newly invented term, second-favourites.
Even on the ICC points table, India is ranked second, just behind England. To see this scenario from a different angle, it may not be a bad situation for a team like India to be second on the limelit list.
India have won two 50-over World Cups, wide apart in 1983 and 2011, while the English team’s mantelpiece still remains empty.
With India having a fan base that treats players like God, and sponsorships to match, it is no secret that whenever and wherever the team plays, fans will come out in large numbers to cheer with volume and sincerity.
In preparation for World Cup 2019, India has played a substantial number of one-day games. Since the 2017 Champions Trophy India have played 59 ODI matches with a record of 11 losses and 45 wins.
Three of those 11 defeats came in the team’s last bilateral series, against Australia, where they wound up their ODI stint before the World Cup with a series loss.
To add a cherry to their worry, India even lost the warm-up against 2015 finalists New Zealand. But they won convincingly in their second warm-up game, against Bangladesh.
To keep that momentum going, the responsibility rests once again on the shoulders of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, and Virat Kohli. From what we have seen in the first few games in the World Cup, the powers that be are offering flat tracks to the batsmen, who will once again have their foot ahead in the game.
In these conditions, India will certainly be dependent on their top three to provide good starts and set the tone. The middle order too looks balanced, with KL Rahul capable of occupying the number four spot and Dhoni still able to find his rhythm when it counts.
Lower-middle duties are reserved for Kedar Jadhav, who has finally recovered from fitness issues, and Hardik Pandya, who has taken on the role of finisher to perfection.
And India’s bowling looks well on track, with Kuldeep Yadav finally rediscovering himself. The likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami, Yuzvendra Chahal, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar will look to replicate their efforts of the last year and a half in this six-week tournament.
With this, the team is well placed to go out there and express themselves. The pundits predict an England-India final at Lords on July 14, and have ticked England as the title winner. All the better.
How dramatically the story could end, if India do manage to play England in the final, and upstage them in their home conditions!
If this should happen, for every Indian cricket fan it will be more than just a World Cup win.