Cricket World Cup: Favourites India must deal with pressure
How India deal with pressure of being firm favourites to lift ICC World Cup trophy is key, writes Rajvir Rai
India kick off the 10th one-day ICC World Cup on Saturday and start the tournament as favourites yet while many have automatically assumed it is a given that they will be crowned champion’s in Mumbai in seven weeks’ time, it is far from decided.
The fact that India are co-hosting the tournament with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka undoubtedly gives them an advantage. Yet, it should not be forgotten that because of the Indian Premier League many of the world’s best stars come into this tournament with plenty of experience of sub-continent conditions.
Many believe that India’s current crop have the ability to finally end the cricket-mad nation’s 28-year wait for a major trophy – and they may be right.
The most exciting aspect of this Indian team is its potent mix of experience and youth. The likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Vivinder Sehwag have done it all before and will look to guide talents such as Virat Kohli, Yusuf Pathan and Suresh Raina.
In the bowling department, however, India lack variety and have potentially left themselves too reliant on Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan to take wickets. The unpredictable Munaf Patel has potential but lacks consistency, while surprise choice Piyush Chawla is a virtual unknown, yet may come up trumps.
The biggest test for India will be how they deal with the pressure. The expectation is high and this could cripple the team if things don’t go according to plan.
Having reached the semi-finals on both occasions in which the tournament has been held in the sub-continent, India should at least get that far again.
The beauty of this tournament is that while India are favourites they are by no means unbeatable – as their recent 3-2 series defeat against South Africa showed.
Their co-hosts Sri Lanka will also fancy their chances and will be relying on the likes Tillakaratne Dilshan, Angelo Matthews and Lasith Malinga to guide them to the latter stages of the tournament.
Sri Lanka, runners-up in 2007, perform well in big tournaments and who would begrudge spin-legend Muttiah Muralitharan the chance to end his glittering international career with another trophy in the cabinet?
According to the rankings, defending champions and the world’s top ranked one-day side Australia, who recently recorded a 6-1 series win over England, are the team to beat – but stats count for little when play gets under way.
The loss of Michael Hussey and Nathan Hauritz will be a big blow to Ricky Ponting’s men who, despite the flattering score-line against England, still have serious questions to answer. Is their captain Ponting up to the task? Can they handle spin? And who will replace Hussey in the top-order and Hauritz in the bowling department.
The reason why this tournament won’t be an anti-climax like the last World Cup, where games were often too pedestrian and the action on the pitch failed to live up to the beauty and flair of the West Indian surroundings, is that you could make convincing cases for England and South Africa to be victorious come April 2.
Yet the dark horses for the tournament are Pakistan. They come into the competition a wounded animal and will be looking to rebuild their international standing after the match-fixing scandal.
Their volatility and unpredictability is embodied in their captain, Shahid Afridi, but even he has mellowed since being given the captaincy. In recent months they have been more united and stable and certainly have the motivation to do well after being stripped of their co-host status in the wake of the 2009 terrorist attacks in Lahore.
In teenager Ahmed Shehzad and Misbah Ul-Haq they have two in-form batsmen who should see them through to the quarter-finals and, if luck is on their side, possibly further.
They also come into the tournament full of confidence having secured their first one-day series win in two years and will be looking to build on this.
Rajvir Rai is the founder of Sport Asia Online.