The team is an 'imperfect' blend of youth and experience
To have a conversation on cricket in India occasionally requires no second person.
Most of us can argue vigorously with ourselves, internal debates that suggest a delightful schizophrenia, where we are optimist yet pessimist, believer and sceptic, supporter and critic, all at once.
We can dissect Tendulkar for an hour, then hail him as conqueror with his next six. We are fickle yet faithful, quick to damn and as fast to forgive, sure that Dravid should open and certain he should come at No 7, simultaneously convinced that Sehwag is overrated yet must go to the cup.
So it follows that as the World Cup approaches, when asked whether India can win, one voice insists "of course" while the other laughs uproariously at the absurdity of the question. Some may call this wishy-washiness, but here are two scenarios of India's chances at the World Cup.
Just pick the one which makes you happy.
We're travelling to the World Cup with crossed fingers, a rabbit's foot and a library of prayer. It is not quite the recommended way to victory. Anything can happen, we say. It is the mantra of the unsure and the hopeful.
It's time India became more famous for its cricket than its big sponsorship deals, but that time hasn't come yet
We're straining to convince ourselves that defeating Sri Lanka recently means something significant, even though Murali wasn't playing, neither was Vaas. Then again, who cares, at home we're the lassi-slurping bullies, hand us a boarding pass and we turn into quivering wrecks.
Technically and mentally this failure to adjust is borne out statistically.
Since Gregarious Greg took over, India has won 70% of its matches at home. Away the figure is 37%, a figure beyond anyone's spin. Ta ta cup. Furthermore, India's tour to the West Indies last year has little relevance as we will be playing only on one of the same grounds.
It gets worse. Four of our players will be drawing pensions shortly (Dravid, Ganguly, Tendulkar, Kumble) and six (Dhoni, Sreesanth, Karthik, Patel, Pathan, Uthappa) have played the World Cup only in their imaginations.
This is called an imperfect blend of the not-so-young and the vastly inexperienced. Always the coach talks of jigsaws and pieces but put together we've rarely been a pretty picture.
In the West Indies, possibly on low-scoring wickets, every run will be precious. But India continues to do for the art of fielding what Britney Spears has recently done for hairstyling. Even Rahul Dravid and Greg Chappell, usually articulate fellows, start stammering about "intensity" and "holding our chances" when confronted with this question.
Then there's the minor matter of half the team being held together by safety pins. Yuvraj's knee injury demands regular prayer, Irfan's fitness is as unsure as his form and Tendulkar's body is in constant mutiny.
The selectors took a punt on Irfan. Fine. But then they took one on Sehwag as well. You can't pick teams on the "hope" that they fire. Add to that novice fast bowlers and a batting line-up shuffled more often than a Las Vegas deck, and we can start hammering out those epitaphs.
It's time India became more famous for its cricket than its big sponsorship deals, but that time hasn't come yet.
It's irrelevant who we beat, or didn't, coming into the cup. In 1983, India won two of its last seven matches before the cup and still triumphed; in 2003, India won only two of its last eight matches and reached the final.
The veteran stars will have to perform
Furthermore, this home and away stuff is over-rated. As captain Dravid puts it: "At the World Cup you're not playing home teams, it's a neutral environment and so it evens out. Most teams have a better home record and for most teams this is an away tournament".
This team is also a perfect blend of youth and experience. The captain said so, didn't he. And all those sneering at our gang of geriatrics, remember this, at the World Cup they shine. Ganguly's average at World Cups is 56.26 (career average 41.22), Tendulkar's is 59.72 (career 44.12) and the captain averages 64.91 (career 40.01).
As Anil Kumble tells us: "There's no (pressure) situation we haven't seen."
Ask Dravid what could determine India's success at the cup, and he says: 1) "How we bowl in the early overs, from 10-12. We tend to give runs and we need to keep it tight"; 2) "How we bat in the middle overs, from 15-40"; and 3) "How we chase tricky targets and handle the pressure".
Ask Greg Chappell, and he says: 1) It comes down to belief; if we believe we can do well we've got the wherewithal to do it; 2) There are critical stages of games and if we get the right people bowling and batting at those critical stages it gives us a better chance of winning".
None of the above is rocket science; everything is doable.
The team is carrying the hopes of a billion people
The fast men are young and spirited, and for those not born then, India won in 1983 with Kapil, Binny, Jimmy, Sandhu, Azad, Madan Lal, an attack, barring the first-named, not reputed to frighten even Boycott's grandmother.
As for the batting order, Ganguly is back doing his ostentatious off-side show again at the top, Tendulkar is cementing the middle order, the captain, born to steady ships, is at his normal rescue position, and Dhoni who loves a stage is primed to explode. So we can't field. So we can't do everything well.
Lastly, pessimists go on about Sehwag and Irfan's selection because they've never heard the phrase "going with your gut". England has picked Michael Vaughan despite a rickety body and unstable form and Australia has gambled heavily on Andrew Symonds. We want captains to use their instinct; if it doesn't work we can always sack them.
This is the best team India could have picked. It's on a winning run. And Australia has stumbled off its pedestal. The stars are in alignment. See you at the victory ceremony.
This debate is closed. Following is a selection of comments you sent.
Ah, Rohit at his brilliant best. The pessimist is right, and so is the optimist. We are going to win the Cup, and we are not. There are no contradictions, really.
Great column. With India you never know what you are going to get. Brilliant one day, pedestrian the next. But India can count on the support of a billion plus wanting it to do well.
I agree, India has picked the best possible team and we certainly expect each of them to stand up and get counted. Fortune favours the fearless, and choosing Sehwag may yet be the masterstroke! On his day, he is 'one-man' demolition army and might prove that again in the Caribbean. Good luck, Guys.
Karthik Prabhakar, UK
The article is absolutely fantastic and gives the viewpoint of more than a billion people. I am the optimist and I am sure, that this is India's time and this time India will definitely bring home the Cricket World Cup - 2007 for the delight of its billion fans. Go India, Go!!
Ashish Wankhade, USA
Pakistan and India have no chance of getting even into the 2007 final match. I bets are on Australia or South Africa lifting the 2007 Cricket World Cup.
Jalal Ahmed, Pakistan
I think that as long as India get into the Super 8's and perform 100%, Indians will be happy! But that is as long as they beat all the sub-continental teams. I fear that Sachin could be in for a tough ride. If India don't perform people will want Greg Chappell's and Tendulkar's heads on a plate! But if they do win or get to the final it will be a different story. People will not go to work for a few days.
Vinoj Srinivasan, UK
I feel this team will do exceedingly well at the world cup
Sandeep Bansal, England
I would love if optimistic result happens but I am more inclined towards pessimist way of looking at Indian team. They have a lot of talent but same time they are known to lose winning games. I can hope for the best for Indian team.
Raj Rakhra, Canada
The bane of the Indian cricket team has always been inconsistency. Time and time and time again we have seen how team India had been declared strong "on paper" but failed to live up to expectations out on the field. Or repeated sputtering performances resulting in half the team failing miserably, forcing the other half to step up and somehow present/defend a decent score (depending on which half flops). No doubt there is enormous talent in the current squad, but unless you're playing some form of fantasy cricket video game, matches are fought and won on the field, not on paper. As far as I am concerned, the vital ingredients that has been missing in India are lack of fitness, discipline, mental toughness and hunger to win. Hence the mediocre performances and "best of the rest" tag. Which is rather odd if you think. All said and done I will be rooting vociferously for India. The Bharat army may not be realists, but we are most definitely diehard optimists.
My comments are not necessarily pertinent to the excellent article by the author. Instead, I will focus on the damage that cricket has done to India in particular and South Asia in general. There was a time prior to 1947, that only six nations played cricket at the 'test match' level. They were UK, Australia, New Zealand, W. Indies, S. Africa and India. Notice, it was played by Britain and its colonies. Today, out of around 200 nations, about a dozen nations play it at the test match level. Cricket is like religion in India today - it is a cricket-mad nation, with all its scarce sports resources thrown into a 'sport' of dubious value. Consider these facts: 1. Cricket originated in the UK, whereby physically unfit and idle gents of the upper classes engaged in this pastime (I prefer to not call it a sport). 2. Cricket is not the most popular 'sport' even in the nation of its origin. Neither is it the most popular in Australia, the champions. In both these nations it is a fourth strung 'sport' after soccer, rugby and field hockey. 3. India dominated field hockey until 1964 and was a world force to reckon with in soccer until 1956. 4. India's cricket teams have performed pathetically while playing overseas. Statistics bear this out, with rare exceptions. Why did cricket become the most popular sport in India? My theory is that the upper castes in India took it on because it did not involve bodily contact. Since the higher castes had (and still have) all political and bureaucratic power, this stupid pastime called cricket has been shamelessly promoted at the expense of all other real sports - soccer, hockey, track and field, gymnastics, aquatic sports etc. India will never get an Olympic gold medal unless it sheds this anachronism called cricket.
Ved Vedamanikam, USA
We have the best batting line up there is - 1.Sehwag (off form but is 'due'), 2.Ganguly (purple patch), 3.Uthappa (smokin' and X-factor), 4.Tendulkar (no mention required), 5. Yuvraj (on 2005-07 form, only Hussey is better in that slot), 6.Dravid (no mention required), 7. Dhoni (boom boom - averages 45), 8. Zaheer Khan (purple patch and has World Cup Final experience), 9. Agarkar (not the best in the world, but does a job plus 275 ODI wickets), 10. Harbhajan or Kumble (quality spinners - Kumble is better than Murali!), 11. Munaf (quick, bowls line and length, X-factor).
Tarun, Essex UK
If India has to keep the opponents run-rate to less that 5 an over in the first 20 overs.. And Sehwag has to fire. Tough.. very tough
Sunil Jatkar, USA
India is an unpredictable team. One day they are at the top and the next day at the bottom of the ladder. But overall it is a team which knows it's weakness and strength. If they correct their mistakes and each player co-ordinates with the rules of team spirit, well there is a chance that they can clinch the cup. Good luck to them.
Vivek Menon, USA
Pakistan and India have slight chances of getting into the 2007 final match. I would bet Australia or South Africa won't be lifting the 2007 Cricket World Cup.
Varun Sikand, Estonia
It is doubt for India to show performance as they did in 1983 World Cup final. This time no doubt their batting is strong. But their bowling department are not up to that level to win World Cup, specially spin bowling. Kumble's performance is unpredictable after all age is a factor. Harbhajan is not so dependable. However we are looking forward to seeing their performance. Hope for the best.
Swapan K Mitra, Canada
If India wins, the players will be weighed in gold, I bet you that!
Raj Kumar, USA
To say anything in absolutes is foolish, just as Rohit tried to point out. Remember, the format of the Cup this year is such that it will crown the team that plays most consistently. So I look for no surprise teams to make it through - South Africa, Australia, India and West Indies will be in the semis.
Premal Trivedi, USA
Calling India an unpredictable team is a fallacy. To be unpredictable, one has to win some and lose some. It's been 24 seasons since India last won a World Cup. It's been a dozen years since India won an Asia cup! The last win (jointly, though!) in Champions trophy happened five seasons ago. And there goes "unpredictability" down the drain! These numbers are like real long time for the billion plus Indian fans. As someone mentioned, the core qualities like fitness, discipline and hunger are severely lacking while money" and fame" are in abundant supply.
Seyed Abdulkareem, India
India can win. Only the bowling needs some work on. But these days with WI wickets Harbhajan and Kumble should do serious damage. Watch out for Murli and Sri Lanka and of course WI are a different team at home
Great article, Rohit! It is these pieces that keep bringing us readers back to your column. As to Team India, let's put it this way - we have never before been so strongly considered as serious contenders for winning the Cup. And let's leave it at that till we find out...
Krishna Kurien, UK
I think India has a chance of winning the World Cup as they have plenty of young talent. Age is unlikely to be a concern for the team. However, India should continue not to underestimate possible opponents that have lost their major players whether it be Australia or Pakistan. Australians still perform well without their top players and usually come up with good replacements. Pakistan can trigger an upset as they once secured a big ODI win against South Africa even without Shoaib and Asif. Everyone may think that Pakistan is nothing without Shoaib, Razzaq and Asif and this will encourage the Pakistanis to work harder and win games.
Jivan Khatry, Nepal
Can there be any other ultimate Cinderella story than for Ganguly having a hand in India's world cup victory? Capping off a great career in an unimaginable way, Sachin will take the lead and guide India to the finals. As the captain, Dravid will be remembered forever like Kapil Dev. No better way for these three stalwarts to retire.
Ashik Kannan, USA
I would love to see: 1st Semi Final: India vs Pakistan, 2nd Semi Final: Australia V/S England. Come on Team India lets break the jinx from 1983. Let the headline say 'India win the World Cup after 20 years'.
Reetesh Bhasin, India
I think India would be satisfied as long as the team maintained their 100% winning record against Pakistan in the World Cup.
Arjun Markanda, India, USA
If this team doesn't win the World cup, India will never again going to win another World cup. They just don't have the heart to play all the way to the end. They simply panic when it comes to the final.
Anil Patel, UK
Cricket has been a religion and now it has become an industry as well in India. For this industry to do well, India will have to lift this World Cup, no matter how. And I do not see any reason why can't we do that. We have three of the best batsmen in the world and we have a bowler who almost single handedly lost our last World Cup after bringing us to the verge of winning it and he knows that he owes this cup to over a billion fans back home. So does perhaps the best batsman game has ever produced.
But I feel all the fuss about ageing players is quite needless. Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly would walk into most teams and are still at top of their games. Youngsters like Raina were given their chances but they failed to capitalise. They should certainly reach the semis.
Abhishek, Mumbai, India
Three scenarios - India wins the WC : The euphoria lasts probably for a day and we quickly conclude that we cannot bask on past laurels ( although a day old). We need to have a track record like Australia, need to prove we are not a one trick pony. India looses the WC but beats Pakistan (doesn't matter which round): There is still euphoria that we did beat Pakistan after all (India never lost to Pakistan in the World Cup). Strangely this should suffice our egos. If neither of the above two scenarios happen, then we pretend the World Cup never happened and we look forward to the next series.
Aussies just got cleaned up by New Zealand, in addition to several preceding defeats. They're not quite the invincible they once were. South Africa are being pushed by Ireland and many in the team lack World Cup experience and that does count for something. They are probably going to make it to the semis, but when the pressure piles on we know they are susceptible. Pakistan are significantly weakened by missing players. Though they can never be counted out, it's safe to say they're going to be losing a few games. West Indies - home (dis)advantage plus lack of form coming into the tournament. Beat Kenya by 21 runs - not the strongest statement. Sri Lanka: over-reliant on Murali. This is a long tournament and one man's brilliance won't carry them through. New Zealand: I can't convince myself that a team that loses to Bangladesh at the beginning of the tournament can win it in the end. England: Looking good and might do quite well. My semi-finalists: England, India, Sri Lanka, Australia.
Well cricket is a funny game, I wont predict anything cause in the end everyone who does looks like a fool! As for my heart, I want India to win, as a spectator I would want the best team win - as someone wanting cricket to benefit - will want the minnows to beat the giants (Bangladesh has already beaten New Zealand in the warm up match so refer to my first sentence) - if not in the finals or semis - at least in some group games. Overall, I want a good complete tournament with no rain, no drugs and other scandals. I want all the teams to field 100% fit players and I want both the big guns and young promising guys to do well. So I will go with one of the contributors who says what is the point? Just enjoy guys!
I think India has a good team but not enough to win the World Cup. The middle order of Dravid, Yuvraj, Tendulkar and Dhoni is very good but India lacks lower middle order batsmen who can win matches in crunch pressure situation. Also the fifth bowler will be a problem so in order for India to qualify for the semi-finals and then forward from there the top six will have to play very well.
Amosh Shakya, Nepal
The only problem with the Indian cricket team is that they are not consistent. They will start well but when it comes to finishing they fail. I am a great fan of them and hoping that they win the World Cup.
Vinesh Kallideen, South Africa
Okay, here's another way to look at it. Barring a surprise from Bangladesh (not entirely out of the question, especially after the recent Kiwi-hunt by the Tigers), India will need to better four teams in the super-8 section. I can see West Indies, New Zealand, England and Pakistan struggling . Also, Australia and South Africa don't look like their top-ranked selves on WI pitches. That leaves Sri Lanka, who are as unpredictable as anyone else in the game, especially through being over-dependent on Murali. In other words, there aren't going to be any clean sweeps. All teams are likely to have tough matches and everyone is going to lose a few. In a situation like this (apart from the regular focus-commitment-consistency-passion-killer's instinct type stuff) winning will come down to (i) rotating the team selection and resting players, (ii) part-timers sharing bowling responsibilities (Yuvraj, Ganguly, Sachin and Sehwag), (iii) all-rounders turning in all-round performances (especially Pathan and Yuvraj), and not least (iv) creative captaincy. It's anyone's cup at this point. I think the four points above might be critical in the final analysis.
This Indian team not won a tournament for last four years. How on earth can i put my money on it? Indians lack self belief in winning one day finals and winning the world cup needs mental toughness and self belief which i don't this team possess it.
Manoj Alappat, Oman
I say get rid of Greg Chappell and the cricket board to give more control to the team and we then have the potential to be the best team in the world.
I think that it is the Indian cricket fans who really make the Indian team win or loose the match. If we let the players play their game and not praise them to the hilt when they do good and not condemn them when they loose we may see a different approach by the players. So my only request to all the fans is for once let us wait and see and let them play. We may be surprised at the result.
Vivek Bendre, USA
I am always an optimist. India has picked the best side possible. With reference to Sehwag, he will demolish the even well reputed bowlers. If I was a betting person, I would put all my money on India winning the Cup. Good luck.
Kirit Shah, UK
India can not win because: Except Dravid, Kumble and Ganguly they all lack commitment. The experienced members of the team are over the hill. Any other country would have sacked them two seasons ago including Tendulkar who lives on past glory. Sehwag is a waste. The only good fielder in the side is Yuvraj Singh.
S Ramaswamy, India
I predict Dhoni and Sreesanth will shine in this World Cup.
India follow a familiar script. They do all the hard work to get to the semis or the finals, then the bowling completely fails.
AK Sethi, USA
Can somebody explain to me why Indian selectors have not chosen Mohammed Kaif. If preference was given to Sehwag then the same should apply to Kaif.
Jayant Mehta, United Kingdom
As a British Indian, I would love to see a England vs India final. It is all down to Dravid amd Co and how they prepare and how hot a curry they have had the night before. Let's just hope it sets off some fireworks.B Patel, UK
India has all the right players to do the job and go on to win the Cup. But do they have the mental and physical strength like the Aussies?
Raman Sain, UK
India will not win because of its poor fielding. They will lose in the second round, that is if they get to it. I am putting my money on South Africa.
Sai Vemulakonda, Canada
The final four in this tournament are going to be South Africa, Australia, India and West Indies.
If India does well then the interest of 1 billion cricket fans stays and if India doesn't do well then the coffers of the World Cricket organizations would dry up. Lets the economies behind the game ensure that India does well! One last warning. Australia's win will make this game as popular in the world as Tony Blair's ratings in Gordon Brown supporters' club
Sudhir Bisht, Lagos, Nigeria
Nobody expected that India would reach the final in 2003 Cup, because of an earlier big loss against Australia. The same thing will happen in 2007.
The problem is with the bowling. Except Zaheer Khan and Munaf, we don't have performers. Bhajji and Kumble are poor travellers. Agarkar & Sreesanth are too expensive. We are short of two good bowlers. Ramesh Powar should have been selected.
Mind you, India have the best spin attack....and the way Zaheer/Agarkar/Munaf are bowling....if the bowlers hold their nerves(unlike 2003 final), they can demolish any opposition. Where India can score is the pedigree of their batsmen. Their fielding is no worse than it has been in the past, if not better and it is definitely better than Pakistan/WI/England. I agree with Ranatunga, this team looks more like the 1996 Sri Lanka team for the world cup
Every World Cup, we say the same thing that India will win and we come back without it. There is no place to optimism or pessimism, it is down to performance of the Indian team. India will not cross super 8 stage.
Sarathi, Reading, UK
This is a team with something to prove, Tendulkar, the man destined for greatness. Ganguly, admonished, belittled and abandoned, yet he has returned, confident arrogant and proud, not of just who he is but for all he has stood for. Dravid, the symbol of humility, patience and character, a true sportsman, who voices his desire through his bat and not his mouth. I can continue on about Kumble, Dhoni, Uthappa and Harbhajan but the point I am making is, never has desire superseded talent till this World Cup for India. Reason enough to win with some luck? I shall be hoping so.
Rupin Thomas, USA
Hey, why are we placing all our bets on the veterans? What about young blood? Why are we playing with the jokers of the pack? Let's ease our blood pressure by not batting for India but batting for cricket. Enjoy the game, folks. How does it matter who wins?
I don't think India will lift the Cup because the focus of our board, management and players is not the game of cricket. Its the business of cricket.
Caesar , Kuwait
India definitely has the talent to reach the semis at the very least. This year the team consists of veterans and youngsters, very much so like the Australian team of the late nineties that has dominated cricket for the last 15 years. One can say that the South Africans and Australians are the two best teams in the world. The final four in this tournament are going to be South Africa, Australia, India and New Zealand.
I am a proud Pakistani, but looking at the Pakistani team minus Shoaib, Asif, and Razzak I doubt we have a chance. However, the Indians look good. If there's any other team that I'd like to see win the World Cup besides Pakistan it would be India! Long live Indo-Pak Unity!!
Abid Mohammadzai, USA
It is always going to be a roller coaster ride supporting India. I am ready for it! For the last 10 years or so money involved in Indian cricket is similar to the money involved in English football. Both teams fail when it comes to major tournaments. But both Indian cricket and English football have produced plenty of millionaires and house hold names without much success to talk about. I am an eternal optimist and I will continue to support the Indian team. I think like West-Indies, Australia had their two decades of glory and it is coming to an end.
Dr C Krishna, UK
India has a terrible cricket team which has no chance of winning the World Cup. The team consists of old and ageing players who are past their primes. Look for either Australia, Pakistan or West Indies to win the Cup.
Sam Madnai, USA