These are early days in the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, the competition of one-day cricket being played in England and Wales. The Men in Blue have started their journey convincingly, beating South Africa by six wickets in their first encounter. Opener Rohit Sharma’s unbeaten century (122 not out) and Yuzvendra Chahal (4/51) and Jasprit Bumrah's (2/35) bowling were promising signs for the team, which will now face Australia in their next match.
Indian fans thrilled by their team's first win must remember that South Africa had failed to perform as a unit, having lost to England and Bangladesh before they faced India. That is not the case with Australia, which has registered two straight wins by beating minnows Afghanistan and a competitive and resolute West Indies so far.
Nathan Coulter-Nile surprised everybody by scoring a power-packed 92 batting at number eight against the West Indies. Coulter-Nile, along with Steve Smith (73) and wicketkeeper-batsman Alex Carey (45) set a target of 289 for the West Indies, which fell 15 runs short of their goal despite a courageous chase. That Australia could reach 288 after the first four wickets were down with 38 on the board is a clear indication that the team is mentally in good shape – and prepared to do what it takes to find a way out of trouble.
Shane Warne believes that Australia are favourites to lift the coveted trophy. The fact is, they are. The team, among other things, has a strong batting line-up with quite a few batsmen capable of tearing into the opposition with knocks of substance on a good day.
The short, muscular and seriously powerful David Warner can unleash havoc when the going is good. He is that one batsman in the Australian team, who needs to be dismissed as soon as possible – even if that means the bowling team has to take a few risks and allow him some free hits. Every skipper knows that getting Warner’s wicket is a precious acquisition, which Virat Kohli too will when the stocky batsman comes out to bat against India.
And, there are others. Aaron Finch is a level-headed skipper and a reliable opener; Usman Khwaja is a superb talent, and Steve Smith has an appetite for big scores. If Glenn Maxwell gets going, he can consolidate Australia’s position in quick time. Marcus Stoinis is an exciting prospect, who can be expected to chip in with the bat. So can Carey, whose presence gives the team more-than-adequate depth in the batting line-up.
India have a world-class line-up of bowlers, with much depending on Bumrah, Chahal, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Kuldeep Yadav. The strategy of the opening bowlers will be to try and ensure that Australia lose a couple of wickets quickly without getting a flying start, which can put the bowlers who follow under unnecessary pressure.
That won’t be easy. Few will imagine that Australia will lose four wickets for 38 runs as they did against the West Indies once again. Indian bowlers' first task would be to restrict the Australians, hoping that wickets will fall along the way.
Australia’s bowling, spearheaded by the in-form Mitchell Starc who took a five-for against the West Indies, has enough quality to keep any good side on its toes. Pat Cummins can restrict and pick up wickets, while Coulter-Nile has also been a significant contributor with the ball. The team also has a lot of expectations from the gifted leg break googly bowler Adam Zampa, whose deceptions will test the batsmen’s ability to play spin. India's relatively inexperienced middle order is the team’s one evident weakness. The versatile Australian bowling attack will ask questions, which it needs to answer.
India’s upcoming match against Australia might turn out to be the sort of nail-biter ICC World Cup must have. It will be a battle among equals one team shall win.