It shall not be easy for India

Partab Ramchand

December 3, 2002

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Kapil Dev has once again expressed the view that India can win the World Cup. And emphasizing on the "team work" that the Indians have produced of late, Ravi Shastri is the latest to jump on this upbeat bandwagon. And of course all over the country, and one suspects abroad too, cricket followers are chanting the mantra that India will win the World Cup.


A lot has been made of the NatWest Trophy triumph in England and the sharing of the ICC Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka. Notable as these feats are, the fact remains that teams like Australia, West Indies, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa were not among the contestants in the NatWest Trophy while it must not be forgotten that the Champions Trophy was held in the sub-continent where India have always performed well.
I wish I could share this optimistic mood when it comes to analyzing India's chances at the World Cup. But I am afraid I remain pessimistic. With just over two months left for the mega-event to commence there are three very important factors that are governing my rapidly increasing negative mood ­ the past, the present and the future.

Let's quickly examine the past record of India in the World Cup. In 1975 and 1979, India were novices in the field and predictably enough were eliminated at the preliminary stage. If a Test nation suffers its most inglorious moment when it loses to an associate member, then, India suffered that humiliation when they went down to Sri Lanka in 1979.

The unexpected triumph in 1983 still constitutes the greatest moment in Indian cricket. Outsiders at 66 to one, Kapil's Devil's, as they were imaginatively labeled, surprised the cricketing world. The one cautionary note that triumph served was that from then on great things would be expected every time from an Indian team in the World Cup.

What's that adage again about it being hard to reach the top but it being harder to stay there? Realistically speaking, the Reliance Cup in 1987 represented India's best chance to win the title again. The team had huge factors in their favour. They were the defending champions, the nucleus of the trophy-winning side was still intact and they were playing at home in familiar environs.

The build up to the title defence was terrific and the crowd was behind them to a man. A semifinal spot was theirs for the asking for starters, and they did well too in the preliminary stage winning five straight games following a one-run loss to Australia in the tournament opener. And then, as everyone knows, the dream run and the dream itself was shattered by England in the penultimate round.

In Australiasia in 1992, India never had a realistic chance, though, few expected them to finish as low as seventh among nine teams in the preliminary stage. However, hopes were renewed four years later when India were co-hosts again.

This time too the Indians flattered only to deceive, being outplayed by ultimate champions Sri Lanka in the riot-torn semifinal at Calcutta. And despite all the hype surrounding their campaign for the 1999 tournament in England there was again never any realistic chance of India making much progress. They just about made it to the Super Six stage and that remained the extent of their challenge.

So the net result is that in seven competitions, India have finished winners once and semifinalists twice. The past then does not inspire confidence. Much the same sentiments can be expressed when it comes to the present.

A lot has been made of the NatWest Trophy triumph in England and the sharing of the ICC Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka. Notable as these feats are, the fact remains that teams like Australia, West Indies, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa were not among the contestants in the NatWest Trophy while it must not be forgotten that the Champions Trophy was held in the sub-continent where India have always performed well.

The conditions in South Africa are very different and to compound matters, India does not enjoy a very good record in that country. Yes, on present form, the team perhaps deserves a place in the Super Six, something confirmed by the latest team rankings but anything above that will have to be considered a bonus.

And now to the future. India are in the much tougher Pool A. The other teams in the group are defending champions Australia, England, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Holland and Namibia.

The challenge of Holland and Namibia can be discounted. Associate members at the most have pulled off the upset victory in the World Cup ­ besides Sri Lanka defeating India in 1979, we have had Zimbabwe beating Australia in 1983, Zimbabwe upsetting England in 1992, Kenya shocking the West Indies in 1996 and Bangladesh surprising Pakistan in 1999 ­ but have not progressed beyond the preliminary stage. That still leaves four tough matches against Australia, England, Pakistan and Zimbabwe and India will have to win at least two of these to be in the running for a place in the Super Six.

That's easier said than done. Incidentally, the other group comprises South Africa, New Zealand, West Indies, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Canada and Kenya. So there you have it. On past record, present form and a cursory glance at the future (the draw for the World Cup) it is not going to be an easy passage for India. As I said, anything beyond the Super Six must be considered a bonus. But then in 1983 even qualifying for the semifinal was thought to be out of the question. So, then, what was that adage again about man living on hope?

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