Does India have the nucleus of a World Cup winning side?
The blitz on behalf of India's World Cup campaign has started in real earnest. If on TV we have Shah Rukh Khan yearning for ek cup aur, in the print media we have Kapil Dev saying that India can dream about winning the World Cup following India's victory against West Indies at Ahmedabad when the home team successfully chased a total of 324. Over the next couple of months we will have more such aspirations, lengthy analyses by experts and all sorts of public opinion polls. One's mind goes back to a similar blitz carried out on the eve of the 1999 competition highlighted by a national news magazine's rather lopsided cover story on '11 reasons why India will win the World Cup'. We all know what happened. In fact only the bookies, the down-to-earth breed of people who think with their heads and not with their hearts, got it right. They put India sixth in the list of favourites as the tournament commenced and that was how India finished.
Admittedly, this time around, the Indians from being just one of the contenders for the World Cup, have emerged as strong challengers on the sheer weight of their performances over the last few months. The NatWest Trophy triumph and the sharing of the ICC Champions Trophy are being cited as proof that India stand a realistic chance of regaining the trophy they won 20 years ago.
Detractors, however, never tire to point out that even if the NatWest Trophy triumph was registered away from the sub continent, the opposition was not very strong in the absence of Australia, West Indies, New Zealand, South Africa and Pakistan. The pessimists also underscore the fact that in the full-strength ICC Champions Trophy, the joint triumph was achieved on the sub continent whereas conditions in South Africa will be very different. And it must be remembered that India's record in that country is anything but impressive. To compound matters, India's showing in the ongoing series against the West Indies has been uneven. After all, even without Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan they were favoured to take the series easily.
It does take certain special qualities to emerge as a World Cup winning side and at the moment it must be admitted that India fall short of being a trophy taking combination. Even the supreme optimist will admit that the bowling is weak. And the rash of experiments being tried out by the team management is proof that there are certain lacunae in the squad that have to be plugged. A formidable batting line up can come to naught when not backed by strong bowling.
As I said, it takes certain qualities to emerge as World Cup champions, qualities that will undoubtedly emerge after taking a quick look at the seven sides that have won the trophy so far.
Few will deny that India's unexpected triumph in 1983 was scripted in the main because of the presence of a number of all rounders - Kapil Dev, Ravi Shastri, Roger Binny, Madan Lal and Mohinder Amarnath. By this time, the bits-and-pieces player had become essential to the one-day side and Steve Waugh underlined this by playing a prominent role in Australia's victorious campaign on the sub continent in 1987. Of course, Australia were also well served in the batting department by the likes of Geoff Marsh, David Boon and Dean Jones while Craig McDermott with a bag of 18 wickets saw to it that the bowling too played its part in the triumph.
Around this time, another quality associated with championship winning sides came to the fore - outstanding leadership. Allan Border provided that in 1987 by leading the Australians to victory when they were still in the rebuilding process and reckoned as having little chance of getting beyond the semifinals.
In Australiasia in 1992, it was Imran Khan's turn to provide inspirational leadership. Again Pakistan's chances were not rated too highly especially after they had lost three of their first five matches. Indeed, at this stage Pakistan were virtually out of the tournament but by winning their last three league matches, they squeaked into the semifinals as the fourth team and the rest is history. Imran's contributions with bat and ball were modest but he inspired his teammates to great deeds and Javed Miandad, Rameez Raja, Amil Sohail and young Inzamam with the bat and Wasim Akram, Aaqib Javed and Mushtaq Ahmed with the ball responded in a telling manner.
The Sri Lankans in 1996 brought back memories of the twin West Indian triumphs and not just in the manner of playing. It was back to the six batsmen and four bowlers policy but with one important change. They had a wicketkeeper who could double up as a pinch hitter at the top of the order. The Jayasuriya- Kaluwitharana pairing was really something else and the Lankans by going for the bowling in an uninhibited manner virtually decided the course of the match in the first 15 overs. The high point came at Kandy in the game against Kenya when Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana brought up the 50 in an amazing 3.2 overs. Not surprisingly, Sri Lanka went on to register the highest total in a limited overs international - 398 for five in 50 overs on their way to a glorious trophy triumph at Lahore a couple of weeks later.
While the batting was Sri Lanka's chief strength, the bowling in the hands of Chaminda Vaas and Muthiah Muralitharan was anything but weak while Jayasuriya doubled up as a utility player and there was also the inspiring captaincy of Arjuna Ranatunga.
So there you have it the mantra for a World Cup winning side. Astute or inspiring leadership, a formidable batting line up, an awesome bowling attack and one or two utility players allied to other mandatory factors like brilliant fielding and catching, self belief, the ability to win anywhere and not just in your backyard, a thoroughly professional approach and the readiness to innovate. Does the Indian team have all this? I leave it to the reader to be the judge.