Home > Cricket > World Cup 2003 > Columns > Prem Panicker
Unpredictability makes India vulnerable
January 12, 2003
Think back to the World Cups of 1992, 1996, and 1999 -- what's the commonality?
Simply this: On each occasion, pundits, bookmakers and fans alike talked of India as a possible contender for top honours.
In 1996 and 1999, as part of the Rediff team covering the competition, I've had occasion to chat up some of those pundits and fans -- and a common thread has run through those conversations: 'Yeah, India has this great batting line-up... yeah, true, the bowlers are a touch inconsistent... yeah, there is the odd question mark about the captaincy... yeah, teams like X and Y are far stronger and more complete... true, the Indian team has various problems that could prevent it from doing well...
That, in one word -- 'But' -- is the story of Indian cricket, then, and now. Is India the best batting team in the competition? Yes and no. Is it the best bowling team? No. Is it the best fielding team? No. So is it one of the favourites? Yes.
Indian cricket reminds you of nothing more than a crate of soda bottles -- you know, the small-industry version with a marble as stopper? All bottles look alike, and yet when you try to open them, one will fizz so mightily half the soda is spilt before you can take a sip, another is just perfect, a third has all the animation of tap water... and you never know which is which till you actually open the bottle.
Rediff has a neat little template for analyzing World Cup teams. It goes Strengths, Weaknesses, Liabilities and so on -- handy pigeonholes to file information into; and yet all of it, in this instance, is completely useless.
Strengths? The batting -- which, over a 12-month span, has produced the following performances:
272/4 in 48.5 overs; 304 in 50 overs; 326/8 in 49.3; 288/6 in 50 overs; 271/2 in 39.3 overs; 200/1 in 27.1 overs; 290/8 in 48 overs; 283/6 in 50 overs; and 325/5 in 47.4 overs.
Weaknesses? The batting, which during the same period has produced the following:
123 all out in 25 overs; 165 all out in 29.1 overs; 180 all out in 36.5 overs; 108 all out in 32.5 overs; 108 all out in 41.1 overs; 122 all out in 43.4 overs...
Strengths? The bowling, which during the time frame in question has reduced opposing sides to: 186 all out; 191 all out in 36.2 overs; 187 all out; 201 all out; 109/7...
Weaknesses? The bowling, which during the calendar year has conceded: 325; 274; 285/6; 280/3; 300/5; 324/4; 291/5; 315/6...
This same period has seen spectacular individual performances:
A score of 275/5 that contained Ganguly's 127/126 and Tendulkar's 101/129 and nothing else; 219/2 in just 29.4 overs with Tendulkar 87/67 and Sehwag 82/62; 333/6 in 50 overs with one batsman (Dinesh -- surprise -- Mongia) making 159 of those.
And it has seen the team come together as in a score of 281/8 with just one batsman scoring 50; a score of 319/6 with no batsman scoring a century; a successful chase of 326/8 after being 146/5, with no batsman scoring a century...
All this in a year that has seen the team defeat England, South Africa, the West Indies, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe and lose to the West Indies and New Zealand.
You want to try and pigeonhole this team's strengths and weaknesses? Best of luck.
One could keep digging up stats to underline the point, that this team's biggest strengths and weaknesses are the same. And that it is this very unpredictability that makes the pundits rank them among the favourites even as they tear their hair out in dismay. Who knows what an Indian performance can depend on? Who knows why a team that scores 319/6 against one team, with all batsmen contributing, can then implode, in the very next game to the very same team in more or less similar conditions, to 191 all out?
It could be the moon in Venus, perhaps, or the fact that on the day, room service made the eggs over easy exactly how one particular player likes it...
When you read what follows, keep this in mind: Every other team in the World Cup can be expected to play to its set standards, plus or minus five. India can be expected to play to its standards, plus or minus 50 and there is no telling, ever, which it will be on the given day.