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May 13, 1999

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India's chances are slim

Raj Mannar

What are the chances of the Indian team to win the World Cup? In my opinion, very little. Infact, I won't be surprised, if the team returns home after the first round itself. Sorry to burst the hopeful bubble of some eager Indian fans.

Twelve years back, the Indian team was labelled as a dark horse of the championship by KimHuges (former Australian captain). Not many people, including diehard fans, gave the team any serious look. But, Kapil's Devils (as they were later called) did it on that unforgettable night (Indian time) of June 25, 1983. The key to the performance then was the allround ability of the Indian team and the favourable conditions of England, which suited the team. Of course, a large slice of luck too played a role.

But 1999 is no 1983. Cricket, especially the one-day variety, has undergone a radical change. The last three World Cups have shown that the teams which dared to try out things differently and which had a balanced team composition, performed well.

In the1992 World Cup, MartinCrowe stunned the cricket pundits when he opened the bowling with an offspinner (Patel) and the batting with a slambang hitter (Greatbatch). And he almost pulled off a major upset, until that crucial game against Pakistan, when Inzamam played that amazing knock. Ultimately, it was Pakistan which had the last laugh, thanks to a combination of the poor World Cup format, large doses of luck, great captaincy by Imran and Pakistan's fighting ability plus natural talent.

In the last World Cup, 1996, we were in for another surprise. ArjunaRanatunga extended the concept of pinch-hitting to majestic levels with Jayasurya and Co. scoring over six an over in the first 15 overs of all most all matches. That combined with solid middle order batting, atheletic fielding, long bowling line-up, cool captaincy and a strong desire to win, made Sri Lanka the worthy World champs.

Further back in 1987, we had Border's Australian team pulling off a great series of wins to become the World champs. And that, too, had much to do with good team work, team balance and never-give-up attitude. (Just remember that tense semi-final against Pakistan, in Pakistan, and also the finals at Calcutta).

So, when we look back at the previous World Cups, we do have a fair estimation of what it takes to win the cup.

Now, does the present Indian team have any of this?? Led by a poor captain (who should have long back retired), a dummy manager (who is renowed for his slow batting in the 70's), this team is lacking in innovation, consistency and the spirit to win.

I don't know how much part time manager, Simpson, and trainer, Andrew Kokinos, can influence the team from this rut. To make things worse, India is in a relatively more difficult group, where they have to battle South Africa, England, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe for the three slots to the semis. No easy task by any standards.

Let's look at the Indian team in detail: Openers: There is still a question on whether Sachin will open the innings or not. There is one section which feels that it's not worth exposing Sachin at the top during the early part of the innings under English conditions, where ball seams around a lot. But, whatever it may be, the best part of the Indian batting is the opening pair of Sachin and Ganguly. We can expect a good show from Gangs this time.

Middleorder: I think this is going to be the problematic area for the team. With Dravid, Jadeja and Azar as the regulars, there doesn't seem to be too much depth in terms of flexibility and ability. Dravid should hopefully do well, considering the fact that English tracks are most suited for technique and orthodox batting, which he is good at. But, his ability to play a matchwinning knock is yet to be proved. I am not so sure about the other two - Jadeja, Azhar.
Jadeja, for all his odd heriocs on the flat tracks of India and Sharjah, is yet to prove his ability outside India. We all know how miserably he performed in New Zealand, just a few months back. So, let's not expect too much for him. But, if he comes in to bat after 35 overs, with the ball old and losing its shine, his scoring could be better.

During the last one year, Azhar has gone down in all aspects. His batting has been more of 'harvest reaping' variety and not that of a leading batsman. Again, considering his age and experience, his place would be more lower down the order.

So, what we are looking at is a major problem if couple of wickets fall early in the innings. The batting lacks the depth and if you look at the Indian tail , it hardly inspires any confidence.
Ramesh and Kurasiya fill the back-up slots. I hope both these players get a chance to play in the eleven, at least for a few games.

All-rounder: We are yet to fill in a Kapil. For now, we have got Robin Singh, one of the most sincere performers in the team. I mean, he is out there trying to prove himself in every game, be it batting, bowling or fielding. His success or failure would mean a lot to the Indian team's performance in this World Cup.

Wicket-keeping: Mongia. Not the most popular of players among Indian fans. We all remember how he pushes and plods, his poor running between wickets. But, the plus point is, we have a sound keeper behind the stumps.

Bowling: Bowling is India's strength in this World Cup. We have got a decent seam attack in Srinath, Prasad and Agarkar with a fair back-up in Mohanty. Prasad is at his best. Srinath and Agarkar should be doing well too. But, I am not sure about how Azhar is going to handle them and what sort of support they are going to get from our fielders.

In the spin dept, we have Kumble (who is more of a medium pacer) and Chopra. I saw Chopra bowl a season back and he seemed to be ok, though nothing spectacular (like Saqlain Musthaq).

We also have Sachin, Ganguly and Robin to bowl. Should be very handy. It's encouraging to see that Jadeja too is chipping in with some quick overs. It gives the captain more options during crisis.

Fielding : This is the biggest weakness of the Indian team. Even Pakistan, which was notorious for their poor fielding have improved. And according to Akram's recent article, they have been working more on fielding than on other aspects. Whereas, the Indian team fielding practice is more of 'drill' sessions, just like the ones we used to do during our PT classes in school. When fielding is poor, it affects the other aspects. The bowlers can get disheartened. More runs will be gifted. The opposition's spirits can heighten.

Average teams like New Zealand and Zimbabwe have been regular giant killers due to their fielding ability alone. And every team which has won the World Cup in the past have had good fielding runs. How can we forget Kapil's catch of Richards in the finals of 83?

Captaincy and strategy: This is going to be another problem for India. With Azhar at helm, it's like a typical Bollywood film production. Just like scenes are written on the sets of the film, Azhar will be doing his thing on the field without much thought. To back him up, is Gaekwad, who put us all to sleep with his batting on the Test field. We have to see whether Simpson can inculcuate some sense of strategy and smartness in the team.

Overall: Strengths of the Indian team: Good openers, good bowling line-up. Star batsman - Sachin. Decent back-up batsmen in Ganguly and Dravid.

Weakeness: Poor fielding, inconsistency in performance, weak middle order, lack of killer spirit, poor strategy, poor captaincy.
With so much against them, it will be surprise, if we can pull it off. Let's hope for the best. MikeAtherton has said that India is going to be a strong contender for this World Cup. We will know it in a few weeks. Let's look at getting into the next round and then take it step by step. Cheers

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