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March 02, 2007
World Cup fever has begun. And with it, the predictions and permutations. I came across this piece in The Guardian, titled, 'Can England win the World Cup?'
"Yes," said Gladstone Small, PCA director and member of England's World Cup final squads in 1987 and 1992.
"If you had asked me this question a couple of weeks ago, I would have said no. But the England players seem to have got the message and are playing better; they are peaking at the right time for the World Cup and they can win it if they show some of the form they have displayed in recent matches."
Funny, one is tempted to script the same lines for the Indian team. Only, it would be prudent to change 'some' to 'all', and to strike out the word 'form'. It reduces player responsibility. Replace that with consistent effort and we have a winning formula.
The Indians lost in South Africa because many players were believed to be out of form. Shortly after, the same players came good and defeated West Indies and Sri Lanka at home.
Is form so easily lost and found?
Of course not. It just means that the Indian team spends equal time functioning in a complacent/confused mode as it does in a combative mode.
As it leaves the home shores in its quest for gold, I want to believe, like Gladstone Small, that our team has got the message finally.
If winning three games in a row before a home crowd seemed a big deal, winning eight out of ten (unless India can afford to lose more) to reach the semi-finals, on West Indian pitches that could see the ball keep low or seam around is going to take all the mad energy, plus some, in that Nike ad.
And yet, despite all the reservations, Team India is taking on the shape of a coherent unit. For long, it has relied on good openers to plunder runs, and an opening bowler to take early wickets. We all know that if both factors fail, more often than not, the team fails. Luckily, the corner has been turned.
With Virender Sehwag claiming to have learned that some shot selections of his in the past were downright awful, not to be repeated, we can be reassured that along with Sourav Ganguly, or Robin Uthappa, he will form an opening pair that could well be the envy of others.
On the bowling side, Zaheer Khan is clearly the ace in the pack. By now he can read most opening batsmen and plays a cat and mouse game, more often than not getting the better of them.
Ajit Agarkar is adequate and has curbed his profligacy by keeping to a better line and length. If Irfan Pathan can retrieve his lost crown as all-rounder extraordinaire, a good bowling attack will suddenly turn lethal. Or close.
This brings us to the middle: the middle order batting and middle overs bowling, both of which can be laggardly. If there is one leisure our batsmen cannot allow themselves, it is to slow down the scoring rate to the point of asphyxiation, like it happened the last time they were in the Caribbean.
As Rahul Dravid mentioned, if you cannot field as well as the others, there is no choice but to score more runs. Normally, this should have caused us severe anxiety, knowing how hard it is for some of the world's best batsmen to take singles and rotate the strike, but Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni are in form (currently, at least), and have the ability to change gears when required.
Which leaves us with the spinners. It is rumored that spin will play a big part in this World Cup. Pray that it is so, for then the last piece can go into the puzzle and not be a question mark.
Instead of seeing the opposition milk Harbhajan Singh or Anil Kumble for runs after a flurry of early wickets, we can expect a snow storm. Optimistic ramblings? Perhaps, but in the last World Cup, after India lost its first game to Australia, if anyone had told you that it would reach the finals unbeaten from then on, you would have said the same thing.
Oh, did I forget to mention that Australia is not unbeatable anymore?
Sujata Prakash -- familiar in the role of columnist to Rediff regulars -- took a break while shifting base from Hong Kong to New York. Now the World Cup is back -- and so is Sujata, with the first in a series of regular columns.
The Cup: Complete Coverage
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