It’s that time of the year again folks. The cricket World Cup 2011 is around the corner and the atmosphere everywhere around the country expectedly is electric. What adds to the spice is the fact that the quadrennial event is coming back to Asia after a long hiatus of fifteen years. Hence, it’s not surprising to see the extra zeal in the people and the media with their news and views on the event, which one expects to reach a crescendo once the Cup reaches our doorstep. Expectations from the home team too are enormous this time, due to a number of varied factors, namely Team India’s superb form and ranking (the close series loss in South Africa notwithstanding), especially at home turf, the captain with the Midas touch M.S.Dhoni, our more than formidable batting line-up and the fact that this would be the last World Cup for the ‘grandfather of Indian cricket’; Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.So the question on everyone’s lips is the same, will we finally break the jinx, will Sachin do it for us?? Will our captain cool still be smiling on the night of 2nd April at the Wankhade?? Time only knows!!
Avid followers of Indian cricket certainly have huge expectations with the tournament, but in a somewhat restrained way. Time and experience with cricket has taught us all on how not to get too hyped up as has been the case on previous occasions. Like many wise brains in the cricketing fraternity feel, this is probably India’s best chance for a shot at the World Cup. India’s last glory in the event came about three decades ago in 1983. And in the subsequent editions thereafter we have had mixed outcomes, ranging from average, to poor and from excellent to utterly dismal. The 1987 event, which incidentally was the first time the event was held in the subcontinent, was turning out great as defending champions India gave some good performances to reach the semi-finals only to be thwarted there by Graham Gooch’s resilient England. The 1992, World Cup held in Australia (and New Zealand), was a stepping stone in World Cup history as it was the first time the teams donned cloured clothing, and matches were played under lights, thanks mainly to Mr. Kerry Packer . For the men in blue though (Navy blue in that edition), it was a forgettable campaign, being ousted in the qualifying rounds itself. The only pleasant memory for fans was the match against Pakistan, whom they were playing for the first time in a World Cup, where they beat them convincingly. Incidentally, India has never yet lost a game against their arch-rivals in all World Cup matches ever since. Come 1996 and the event were back in the subcontinent. Fans watched with glee as Tendulkar thrashed Kenya and India progressed from one step to another beating Pakistan in a memorable quarterfinal before succumbing to the might of the Sri Lankan islanders in a tragic semi-final. Images of a tearful Kambli walking off after the game, (which was ‘awarded’ to Sri Lanka due to crowd trouble) sort of blotched the memory of a decent campaign till that particular match. After three years we were prepared for another shot at it in England in 1999. It turned out be a mixed bag for us, where we brushed aside England, humiliated Sri Lanka in a grudge match, thrashed Pakistan(again), while losing out to Australia and New Zealand in all important Super-six games, which finally drew curtains to our World Cup Endeavour that year.
Then perhaps came the best performance by the Indian team in a World Cup, since 1983. The 2003 edition in South Africa, where Team India, under the able realms of Sourav Ganguly, rediscovered the meaning of “Team” (remember the famous huddle!!), and rose like a phoenix after being walloped by Australia in the first stage, to go from strength to strength to reach the finals, decimating all in their way, before being annihilated again by Ricky Ponting and his men in yellow in the finals. It was a sad end to a very promising start, especially after the events at the start of the tournament where India had lost dismally to Australia and irate fans had gone berserk burning effigies and throwing stones at player’s homes. It told the nature of the fickle Indian fan who can take you down from a hero to zero in a very short time.
The 2007 edition in the West Indies was India’s shortest stint in the tournament. Two losses (Bangladesh and Sri Lanka), and it was over for us. It was the first time we didn’t even make the second stage of a World Cup. The debacle didn’t even give us time to agonize over the defeat, while the advertisers were left lamenting the amount of money they lost because of India’s early exit.
And now, four years have passed, and the fact that we enter the tournament as one of the ‘favourites’,, despite the dismal performance in the previous edition, speaks volumes of the change this team has gone through. The squad has been selected, and debates are raging on, whether this is the best team the selectors have chosen. Eyebrows have been raised on the exclusion of Rohit Sharma, Sreesanth and an extra wicket-keeper. In my view, except for the extra keeper bit, the selectors have indeed chosen the best possible squad that is available at the moment. True we lost the series in South Africa, and most of our batsmen were at sea in the alien conditions. But remember there will be a massive difference in conditions, with pitches being flat, slow and aiding the slower bowlers. In other words, all factors are to our advantage. Once Sachin and Sehwag are back at the top, a fully fit Gambhir should be a perfect number three. With Virat Kohli in the form of his life and the rise of the destructive Yusuf Pathan, all we need is to let Yuvraj and Dhoni find their form. Once that happens, we will have one of the most dangerous batting line ups in the world with numerous game-changers. Raina should find his touch too in these conditions, as his form would be imperative for our success. Our bowling department looks settled too, with Zaheer Khan leading the pack, and Praveen Kumar back in the scheme of things. Harbhajan is bowling as well as he has, and on Indian tracks, he would be more than a force to reckon with. The way Dhoni manages his part-time bowlers would be interesting to see too, as he has used them quite incisively till now. He does have quite a few of them to handle, which is a good thing. The fact that India plays five of its six league games at home is another advantage. All we need now is an injury free side, and lady luck to shine our way; with that India’s chances looks the brightest it has in a long time. And we have reasons to be excited, as everyone expects Sachin to go out o a high note. (If at all he decides to go that is!!). The World Cup is the only trophy that eludes the maestro’s already over-stuffed cabinet. Also captain maverick, Dhoni’s record as a leader too exudes confidence in every Indian. Pessimists will point out his record in ICC events and the fact that no home team has ever won the Cup. But knowing Dhoni, he wouldn’t be too bothered about it, as is evident from his now signature quotes, “Every day is a new day, every match is a new match”.
So instead of criticizing various aspects let us just back this team to the hilt, and enjoy the event, that is all we can do. For the ardent cricket fan it is time to just sit back and count the days to the 19th of February and savour the magic of cricket. After all, like the ICC advertisement says, it’s the cup that counts.