ICC World Cup: Can anyone stop the Indian juggernaut?
New Zealand, the only other team with an all-win record, look potent enough ahead of their Sunday clash against India in Dharamshala
After making it four out of four, the men in blue look virtually unstoppable in the ongoing 50-over ICC World Cup. The top order is firing with the ‘big two’ of captain Rohit Sharma and former captain Virat Kohli looking set to make their possible final cup appearance a memorable one, while the bowling line-up looks potent and has thus far not let things drift.
The question on everyone’s lips, now that India has almost ensured a semi-final berth, is: what does it take to stop the hosts? The general thought is if anyone can, it may be the Kiwis — the only other team with an all-win record so far — as they meet in Dharamshala on Sunday, 22 October.
Speaking after New Zealand’s clinical fourth win against giantkillers Afghanistan in Chennai on Wednesday, TV pundit Aakash Chopra stuck his neck out to say it could be an India-New Zealand final this time. It’s still early days to say so, but what prompted the former India opener’s prediction was the way the 2019 runners-up had adjusted to the absence of top gun Kane Williamson and pace veteran Tim Southee and relied instead on each member of the squad performing their assigned roles.
"They are an amazing team and I feel it’s not a big deal that it could be an India-New Zealand final. They have won four out of four and the semi-final berth is almost confirmed. It is such a good team that it doesn't make a difference to them whether Kane (Williamson) is there or not. They figure out a way to win,’’ Chopra said on his YouTube channel.
The way India have steamrolled their last three opponents after squeezing in an absorbing chase against Australia in their opener, one feels the need of the hour could be a few tight games in the league stages, which may happen now with the likes of New Zealand, England and South Africa lined up in the next two weeks.
There is an element of concern, though, with news coming from the Indian camp that seaming allrounder Hardik Pandya has been ruled out of Sunday’s contest with a twisted ankle.
The last few seasons have seen Pandya provide much-needed balance in the team, acquitting himself perfectly to play the role of third seamer and also offering a calming influence at no. 6 as a finisher. Unlike the 2019 edition, the team management under Rahul Dravid seems more of a believer in continuity, despite regular calls to give seasoned fast bowler Mohammed Shami some game time as a contingency plan.
Now that such a moment has arrived, Shami ought to be the go-to man in place of a below par Shardul Thakur in the helpful conditions in the hills. The buzz is that Surya Kumar Yadav, who has been kept ready in the back-up finisher’s role at no. 6, could be a replacement for Pandya.
Meanwhile, the issue of whether Kohli can reach another three-figure knock in the very next game and touch Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 49 ODI centuries will dominate the build-up. The former captain, who has been invincible in the tournament so far, is never short on intent, though the need of the hour is to keep up the winning habit rather than set personal records.