Past glories won’t count for much for India at Cricket World Cup

As fans continue to revel in past glories, the current India team are finding it hard to recapture that all-conquering form in Australia, writes Dileep Premachandran in Melbourne.
MS Dhoni, left, and Virat Kohli will shoulder heavy expectations in leading India into the 2015 Cricket World Cup, beginning with their pressure-cooker of an opening match on Sunday against Pakistan. Philip Brown / Reuters
MS Dhoni, left, and Virat Kohli will shoulder heavy expectations in leading India into the 2015 Cricket World Cup, beginning with their pressure-cooker of an opening match on Sunday against Pakistan. Philip Brown / Reuters

It was a measure of the disarray in which Indian cricket found itself less than a week before the team’s opening World Cup game that they played a full-strength XI in a warm-up match against Afghanistan.

Having lost a four-Test series 2-0 and then drawn a blank in a tri-series featuring Australia, the hosts, and England, India’s victory by 153 runs in the practice game marked their first success of any kind in two-and-a-half months.

A losing team is not a happy one. Since MS Dhoni resigned the Test captaincy before the fourth Test in Sydney, there have been whispers of discord in the camp, of Virat Kohli’s aggressive approach to leadership being at odds with Dhoni’s rather more understated one.

“All rubbish,” team director Ravi Shastri said to this correspondent, as India left for a training session at the Adelaide Oval.

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Dhoni, of course, remains captain of the ODI side. He also retains the respect of every member of the squad, most of whom are in awe of what he has achieved in coloured clothes.

In addition to averaging an astonishing 52.29 across 254 matches, Dhoni has won every major honour as captain.

For the moment, his side hold both the World Cup and the Champions Trophy. Last April, he led them to the final of the World Twenty20, as well, a competition that India won in 2007.

Past glories do not win you tournaments in the here and now, however. And for the moment, with Pakistan looming as first opponents on Sunday, India have quite a few problems.

They start at the top of the order with Shikhar Dhawan.

A swashbuckling tone-setter when the Champions Trophy was won in 2013, he has looked out of sorts in recent months. Bowlers have slanted the ball across him, and his lack of decisive footwork has kept wicketkeeper and slip cordon more than interested.

The other worry is Virat Kohli, who illuminated the Test series with four hundreds against a high-quality attack.

In his last eight ODI games abroad, four apiece in England and Australia, he has managed 78 runs.

This, mind you, is one of the format’s all-time greats, who has 21 centuries from just 142 innings.

The wild card could be Rohit Sharma.

On his day, nothing is beyond him, not even a score of 264 in a 50-over game.

But his blowing hot and cold cost him a place in the last World Cup squad, and at 27, he will be keenly aware that this is his best chance to make an impression on the biggest stage.

Whatever the batsmen do will be in vain, though, unless a threadbare bowling attack performs far above expectations.

Both Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami are wicket-takers. Yadav is seriously quick, as well. However, they can leak runs.

Mohit Sharma, the third seamer likely to be picked, is a workhorse in the mould of Madan Lal, World Cup winner in 1983.

He and the two spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, will be expected to staunch the run flow in the middle overs, allowing Yadav and Shami to target the stumps.

Despite their recent travails, there is one Australian who refuses to write off India.

“I think MS Dhoni and the Indian team have always been successful, especially under his leadership,” Michael Clarke said during his pre-tournament news conference. “I think he’s done a fantastic job. He is a wonderful player and a match-winner.

“I think they’ll see it as a fresh start. They’ve had success in major tournaments, and they’ll certainly take confidence from that.

“So yeah, I have no doubt that India are going to be one of the toughest teams in this competition to beat, that’s for sure.”

Suresh Raina, one of four holdovers from the victorious 2011 campaign, spoke of how a week off before the warm-up matches would benefit the side.

“We played team games, had a lot of meetings, we all went for paintball shooting,” Raina said. “We just enjoyed a lot of the time, as we have the past 70 days.

“This is the biggest tour for us. We’ve been away from family and fans. That was really challenging. Now, we’ve had a good break, it’s a fresh tournament and you need to focus.”

That should not be a problem against Pakistan.

Few rivalries come any bigger.

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Published: February 12, 2015 04:00 AM

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