Winning Bizness Sports Desk
India has played its first match in the on-going 50-overs format world cup and won it very convincingly indeed. Its opponent was Australia, a five-time world champion in this format. India too has been world cup winners in this format, but only twice—in 1983 and then 28-years later in 2011.
The match played in Chennai last Sunday showed India in excellent touch. Its bowling was exceptional, its fielding excellent and its batting barring a minor hiccup at the start acquitted itself very creditably. Though it is still early days and most teams have played only one game each, India can now safely be said to be a firm favourite to win this world cup
India dismissed the Aussies for just 199 with its spinners weaving a magic web around the Australian batters. Ravindra Jadeja snared three wickets, Kuldeep Yadav two and Ravichandran Ashwin, a last-minute inclusion in the Indian team, one wicket.
Ashwin was the second most economical bowler conceding a mere 34 runs in his quota of 10-overs. Playing on his home ground, Ashwin proved his worth for India through his performance. He was not only economical but his tight bowling helped build pressure on the Australian batters who had no answer to the wiles of the Indian spinners.
Kuldeep picked up two wickets for 42 runs off his ten overs while Jadeja’s figures were a stunning three wickets for 28 runs and this included two maidens as well. Ashwin also bowled a maiden and Jadeja and Ashwin were the most economical bowlers in that order. Jadeja conceded only 2.8 runs per over while Ashwin 3.40 runs per over.
The victory against Australia should settle Indian nerves and now the players should be confident of meeting the challenges ahead successfully. India’s batting, bowling and fielding appears to be in top order and the team seems to have ticked all the boxes so far.
The fielding was of the highest order—all catches were taken and the ground fielding was very good as well. The Aussies were contained to below 200 runs and then the Indian batters, after a nightmarish beginning displayed admirable resilience to win the match losing only four wickets (201-4 in just 41.2 overs) in the end.
To recall, India lost its first three wickets for just two runs and its three batters—Rohit Sharma, Ishan Kishen and Shreyas Iyer all fell for nought. Virat Kohli was dropped when the score was just 20—Australia lost the match then and there.
There was no looking back for both Kohli and K L Rahul after this. The duo took the score to 167 when Kohli fell for a very well-crafted 85 off 116 balls with six boundaries. Rahul compiled 97 runs off 115 balls with eight boundaries and two sixes. By the time Kohli got out the match was well and truly in India’s pocket.
This first match and victory therein should settle Indian nerves and now the players should be confident of meeting the challenges ahead successfully. India’s team seems well balanced with both its bowling and batting combinations in perfect order. The fielding was also good and India seems to have ticked all the boxes so far.
The third match for India is the biggie—an India versus Pakistan encounter on Saturday, October 14 to be played in Ahmedabad. Nobody can predict the outcome of an India-Pakistan encounter; however, going by form, India looks the stronger team.
Now how do the other teams stack-up? Australia’s weak bowling was exposed by India—its spin department looks weak indeed and all the teams will look to exploit this weakness ruthlessly. The Australian batting too looked lacklustre against India and unless its batters pull up their socks quickly, their world cup campaign could unravel swiftly.
The same goes for defending champion England as well. It lost the opening match of the world cup to New Zealand and this can be considered a major upset. England’s batters got starts but could not continue further to make big scores. They struggled to 282-9. Its bowlers too could not make any impact on the New Zealand batters who scored 283-1 in just 36.2 overs.
Pakistan struggled in its match against the Netherlands and though it won the match, it exposed chinks in their armour which stronger teams could exploit ruthlessly.
South Africa has begun its campaign encouragingly scoring 428-5 against Sri Lanka which, though it lost the match, put up a spirited display. The Lankan lions replied with 326 in 44.5 overs. South Africa is a strong contender for the world cup but Sri Lanka though not considered a favourite by many has the potential to cause a few upsets.
The Bangladesh-Afghanistan clash went according to script with Bangladesh winning the match convincingly. Both the teams have not shown any spark in the early days of this world cup but going forward as they settle, one cannot rule out upsets from both these Asian teams.
Now coming to India, it has begun its campaign with a victory and that too against five-time champion Australia. The beginning could not have been better. Its next match is on October 11 against Afghanistan in Delhi. India should win this match easily going by present form.
The third match is the biggie—an India versus Pakistan encounter on Saturday, October 14 to be played in Ahmedabad. Nobody can predict the outcome of an India-Pakistan encounter; however, going by form, India looks the likely winner. The Indian team also appears stronger than the Pakistani team, at least on paper.
However, cricket fans would do well to keep in mind the old cliché that cricket is a funny game and that anything can happen during the course of a match. India appears to hold the edge but Pakistan has the wherewithal to upset India’s apple-cart. If India clears this hurdle and wins its first three matches, then it can be said that its path to the semi-finals is more or less clear barring major upsets.
Going by the teams’ performances in the first week, it looks like the major challenges for India could emanate from New Zealand and South Africa. Both these teams have begun their campaigns victoriously and very convincingly. Their important players are all in form and if they play to potential then one can expect nail-biters in their clashes with India.
England and Australia will have to get their acts together. Their batters will have to put up big scores—it will all come down to how their batters negotiate the spinners who will play a major role in this world cup. Their bowling machine appears frail when compared to some other teams such as India, New Zealand and South Africa.
Australia’s spin department appears bare and its fourth and fifth pace bowlers also appear weak in comparison. Even Pat Cummins does not appear as menacing on Indian pitches as he does back home in Australia. Barring Mitchell Starc, their attack lacks bite and this could prove their undoing in the later stages of this world cup.
Both New Zealand and South Africa have begun their campaigns victoriously and very convincingly. Their important players are all in form and if they play to potential then one can expect them to run India close in this world cup.
England’s spin attack appears stronger than Australia’s but its fast-bowling machine appears equally lacking in bite. Ben Stokes does not bowl nowadays—in fact, due to injury he is not even in the team presently. Chris Woakes is a wicket-taker in English conditions but in India he can be taken for runs. The saving grace for England are their two world-class spinners, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid. Mark Wood was off-colour in England’s first game and unless he regains form quickly, England will be in trouble.
Its batters will have to negotiate world-class spinners on tracks suited to spin bowlers. How their Bazball strategy fares against spinners on Indian tracks will decide England’s fate in this world cup.
South Africa and New Zealand seem to have balanced teams and their initial performances indicate they have the capability to enter the semi-finals. The former piled up a 400-plus score against Sri Lanka and its fast bowling as well spin attack is well-balanced. The same can be said of New Zealand as well.
Not many give Sri Lanka a chance in this world cup but the south Asian team is a spunky side and can cause a few upsets—it lost its match against South Africa but won many hearts through its performance. No team should take the Lankans lightly.
Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Netherlands are not expected to make waves though the Netherlands has shown some spunk in its early encounters. Bangladesh has defeated Afghanistan in its first match but neither of the teams seem strong enough to qualify for the semi-finals. The Netherlands could cause a couple of upsets and win hearts in the process but it is unlikely to win against the big teams.
Pakistan is not in the best of health but it is a team that can be written off only at one’s peril. Some of its best players such as Babar Azam, Shaheen Afridi, Haris Rauf, Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq are yet to find their feet but these are world-class players and they all could be (as the cliché goes) just one match away from a world-beating performance.
Pakistan’s performance of late has not been confidence-inspiring but it cannot be denied that it has the armoury to beat the best in the world. It is an exciting team and it is undeniable that its fast-bowling machine is one of the best in the world. If the Pakistanis can get their act together, then they will prove a formidable foe. It remains to be seen how Pakistan performs as the world cup progresses.
So as things stand at the end of the first week, India, South Africa and New Zealand appear early favourites. England, Australia and Pakistan have to get their acts together and that too quickly if they want to qualify for the semi-finals. The other teams could cause the odd upset or two but not much is expected of them beyond this.
Much is expected of India and the team has begun its campaign on a very encouraging note. It should now keep the momentum going. If India wins the next two matches against Afghanistan and Pakistan then it would have taken giant strides towards qualifying for the semi-finals and ultimately the final and world cup.