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Why India can win this World Cup

By Ashok Karanth
February 11, 2003 11:03 IST
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With the World Cup upon us, and India losing to Kwa-Zulu Natal et al, not too many Indian fans give the team much of a chance to come back with the Cup from South Africa, inspite of Shah Rukh Khan's not-so-subtle urgings in the ads. The experts from around the world rate Australia and South Africa as the obvious favorites, with the West Indies, New Zealand, Pakistan and India as dangerous floaters.

This 'floaters' tag is what interests me. I strongly believe that India has it in them to clinch the World Cup, even though it will not be as easy as floating. Teams that discount India will do so at their own peril. After all, only a foolish man can ignore the talent that India possesses, and the potential to surprise is immense. So here is a look at a very possible scenario that can unfold during the World Cup.

League Phase:

India is bracketed in the "Group of Death". Really, if India was in Group B, we could have started planning for the Super Sixes right away. Anyways, there is this small matter of negotiating the six opponents in India's group, and ensuring that we qualify for the Super Sixes with some good points in hand. Let's look at it one match at a time.

Feb 12 - India vs Holland, Paarl

India has to just turn up at Paarl to win this one. The key take-aways from this match would be for some of India's batsmen to get back to form. I would send Sachin at 3 to prime him for the tougher games ahead. If only Sourav can win the toss and bat first, it would give all batsmen the opportunity to get a decent knock. All in all, a great "ease-in" match for India.

Result: India win.

Feb 15 - India vs Australia, Centurion

I have no doubt in my mind that this match will determine how far India goes in this tournament. If India wins this one, they will go all the way. It will be the ideal shot-in-the-arm for the team -- remember 1983 -- when they beat the West Indies in the league phases, and that confidence carried them through to the final. India can beat Australia. Here's why:

  • Australia hates spin. The two teams they will dread most are India [and their spinners] and Pak [with their express pace bowlers], and they play these two teams right upfront. India must play Kumble and Harbhajan even if the wicket resembles Wimbledon. Get Hayden out of the way, and the rest can't play spin to save their lives. I would also bowl Sehwag and Sachin for 5 overs apiece.
  • Australia is a tired team. God save the organizers of the VB series - it is ridiculous to be playing a serious international competition just two¬†weeks before the World Cup. McGrath, Gillespie, Warne and Bevan are all coming back from injuries. And a tough opener against Pakistan. Without these blokes fully fit, Australia will struggle.
  • Australia under pressure will crack: Remember the Champions Trophy, remember Kolkota in 2001. If India can put the runs on the board and apply pressure, Australia's batsmen will crack. They know only to attack -- which might work nicely into the Indian spinners' hands. Australia has to learn when to take the foot off the accelerator a wee bit -- if only their egos permitted it.

India will have to be a 100 per cent on this day -- catch their catches, save the singles. This match will be won by India's spin bowlers -- the batsmen will have to give them the runs to defend. Sachin loves playing against Australia -- this could well be his day with bat and ball.

Result: India win.

Feb 19 - India vs Zimbabwe, Harare

Zimbabwe is a torn nation, and their cricket team reflects that state of affairs as well. India on form, on paper and on the ground must be fancied to win this one. India will have to bury the ghost of 1999, where this match really spoiled our chances to go through to the semis. This is a potential this-way-or-that match - coming as it does after a rip-roaring encounter against Australia. Either the momentum will carry us through - or the exhaustion after a superb win will leave the team all flat and insipid. However, the desire to win and consequences of losing should ensure that India get through this with 4 points.

Result: India win.

Feb 23 - India vs. Namibia, Pietermaritzburg

Show up at ground. Rest Dravid the keeper. Play Kumble and Harbhajan. Toss. Bat, bowl, field. Win. Go home.

Result: India win.

Feb 26 - India vs England, Durban

Now comes the most dangerous two matches -- this can still make or break India's chances to go to the Super sixes. Conventional wisdom says India cannot ever win more than 4-5 matches at a time -- that is an unwritten law that all Indian players learn by heart when they first wear the Indian cap. Here's where I see the difference: England will be on the downswing in this tournament -- their draw is such that after three easy games, they would have faced their first defeat against Pakistan. They catch India next, with a no-hoper against Australia to follow. That, and India's recent wins against England will see India through.

Durban is a fast wicket, and the match is a day-nighter. Big deal -- play out Caddick, and clobber the rest. Sehwag should be licking his lips in anticipation.

Result: India win.

Mar 1 - India vs Pak, Centurion

Blasphemy, sacrilege -- India will lose this one. With five wins in a row, India will have gone through to the Super Sixes anyways. Pakistan may still need to win this one to be doubly sure. That, and the law of averages, will catch up with India. Energy levels will surely be high, but sheer bowling firepower and burning desire to win will ensure that Pakistan cement their place in the Super Six with this win. India have no reason to fret though -- as Ganguly has gone to extreme lengths to explain, this should be treated as just another match. Lose the battle, win the war.

Also look at history -- India have won the emotional battles in each of the last three World Cups -- beating Pakistan each time -- but the end result -- Pakistan won one World Cup, and was runner-up once. If the choice is between victory against Pakistan or the World Cup, give me and the millions out there the World Cup any day.

Result: India loses.

With the above scenario, India will go through to the Super Sixes with 8 points -- 4 for the win against Australia, and 4 for the other wins. The other teams from Group A would be Australia and Pakistan.

Watch this space for the Super Six stage!!

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