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The load of expectations is always on the players pulling on the blue jersey to represent Indian cricket, especially in a major tournament like the ICC Cricket World Cup.
The two-time champions have made it to the semi-final of the tournament in the last two editions but failed to make it to the final with India failing to chase down the target on both occasions.
The Highs and Lows of the Campaign
In the 2023 World Cup, India has chased down the target in all five matches so far defeating five-time champions Australia, Afghanistan, arch-rivals Pakistan, Bangladesh, and New Zealand.
In the first match against Australia, the Men in Blue restricted the Kangaroos to a total of 199 runs with Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, and Kuldeep Yadav putting the brakes on the Australian innings in Chennai.
Chasing a sub-par total, the hosts got off to the worst start possible with India finding itself at 2 runs for 3 wickets. The partnership of 165 runs between Virat Kohli and KL Rahul for the fourth wicket ensured that India got their first points on the board.
In the second match, Bumrah was once again at his best taking 4 wickets while bowling at an economy rate of 3.90 and the Afghans were able to set a target of 273 runs in Delhi. Rohit Sharma’s century (131 runs off 84 balls) and Kohli’s half-century ensured India got over the line with 15 overs remaining in the tank.
In Ahmedabad, India met Pakistan in their third fixture and the Babar Azam-led side was cruising at 155/2 with the end of the 30th over approaching the Shaheens. A middle-order collapse saw the Pakistan innings fold for a total of 191 runs and the skipper once again led from the front with 86 runs off 63 balls. A half-century for Shreyas Iyer meant India chased the total once again, this time with about 20 overs to spare.
The Indian caravan moved to Pune next as Litton Das scored a half-century and the pair of Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmdullah struck some valuable runs in the lower middle order setting a target of 257 runs for the hosts. A half-century from the fit-again Shubman Gill and a century from Kohli ensured India reached the target comfortably yet again in the tournament.
At the picture-esque location of Dharamsala, India faced their bogey team New Zealand led by Tom Latham in the absence of Kane Williamson. Daryl Mitchell’s century (130 runs off 127 balls) and Rachin Ravindra’s innings of 75 runs off 87 balls ensured the BlackCaps set a respectable target of 274 runs for the hosts to chase at the HPCA Stadium.
Rohit and Gill once again gave a good start to their side accumulating 71 runs in the first 11 overs before the skipper departed to the pavilion making way for the in-form Kohli. The 35-year old batter proved to be the perfect anchor for the rest of the innings as he scored 95 runs off 104 balls before succumbing in the 48th over while going for a maximum as Ravindra Jadeja finished the task of chasing the target two balls later.
Bumrah has been the standout performer so far for the Men in Blue as the Mumbai Indians fast bowler has picked up 11 wickets at an average of 16.27 while bowling at an economy rate of 3.81 thus proving to be the perfect foil for Mohammed Siraj in the death overs.
Kohli is second in the list of top-scorers in the ongoing tournament with 354 runs in five innings with one century and three half-centuries thus far. If the former Indian skipper remains in fine form for the remainder of the tournament, India will be the favorite to lift the cup on November 19.
Rahul has been brilliant behind the wickets with his glove work in the absence of Rishabh Pant and his batting has been phenomenal getting out only once in four innings accumulating a total of 177 runs including the 97-run unbeaten innings against Australia.
Jadeja has also bowled at an economy rate of below 4 in the five matches thus far picking 7 wickets and playing a brilliant unbeaten innings of 39 runs off 44 balls that took India over the line against the Kiwis.
Sharma has been seen in a new avatar in the ongoing tournament as he is batting at a strike rate of 133.48 in the first five matches accumulating a total of 311 runs including a century and crossing the 40-run mark thrice in the five fixtures.
Areas of Concern
Batting second in every fixture: India has batted second in all of their five fixtures so far and head coach Rahul Dravid would be hoping that his boys get to bat first and set a total in at least two of their four matches before the semi-final fixture.
Lack of a backup fast-bowling all-rounder: Since Hardik Pandya’s injury against Bangladesh, Rohit has looked a bit uncomfortable rotating his bowlers since the team has been playing six specialist batters in the absence of Pandya. Moreover, Shardul Thakur’s unreliability with both bat and ball in hand has restricted India to a couple of available playing XI combinations.
A dearth of reliable finishers in the lower middle order: While Hardik the bowler is being missed direly, if India bats first in any of the upcoming matches, a reliable finisher in the lower middle order would trouble the hosts.
Suryakumar Yadav lacks match practice and fluency in the ODI format, while Jadeja is more of a run accumulator rather than a finisher who can go big in death overs.
The Road Ahead
India faces defending champions England on October 29 in Lucknow, while the resurgent Sri Lanka will face the Men in Blue at the Wankhade Stadium in Mumbai on November 2 in a rematch of the 2011 Cricket World Cup Final played at the exact same venue.
After facing the power-packed South Africa in Kolkata on November 5, the Rohit-led side will compete against the unpredictable Netherlands in Bengaluru on November 12. If India seals their qualification to the semi-final stage before facing the Dutch outfit, the likes of Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar, Thakur, and Ashwin could get some minutes on the field.