The lightness of being India

Mohammed Shami is mobbed after removing Quinton de Kock for 7 Getty Images

At the World Cup, like all other international fixtures, the Indian team lives and travels separated from everyone outside, in a bullet-proof bubble. It is a bubble bullet-proofed by money and clout to give India a scarcely bearable lightness of being.

After the high-octane first two group matches of this World Cup, the players have floated through the tournament on a cloud of success and confidence. They play their final match against Zimbabwe at the Eden Park on Saturday, a ground which on the outside looks like an early 20th century edifice of import and on the inside, is turned into a cricket oval with its head flattened.

Eden Park owes its primary loyalty to rugby and on Saturday, the chances of India being spear-tackled onto their head by Zimbabwe are as possible as an All Black doing net-bowler duty for the Black Caps. The eventual outcome of this game doesn't matter one way or the other. The Indians, or at least that is the message emerging from behind their concrete walls, will want to get stuck into the scrum, because that's what they have been doing over the last four weeks of this event.

As team director Ravi Shastri said, India have approached "every game as a knockout." Ever since his playing days, Shastri was always known for his front-foot and at 'em guys approach, and this talk is up his street: "Whether it is UAE or South Africa, it is just another team that is trying to beat us. The opposition does not matter." There will come a point when it will, but only a week or so from now.

At the moment all engines are running on full power: India are the only side in the World Cup so far who have dismissed their opponents in every game, to the utter astonishment of the world, an Indian batsman features among the top five run-scorers at a strike rate of 98 and there was even a point when India were been the only team to have not dropped a catch. Now, there's only so much that can happen in the real world.

Mohammed Shami is as far from Ravi Shastri as Eden Park is from the Karnail Singh Stadium, but he too spoke the same language. "It doesn't matter who is the team we are playing," he said. "Zimbabwe, Bangladesh or Australia, England, we have to win the match in every possible way. Cricket is such a game that anything can happen so we have only approach no our opponent. That we should play the way we have been playing and be successful with."

Shami was doing his media chatter in Hindi and so when the "areas of improvement," was put to him, Shami smiled and replied, with inaccurate translation that was: "go with the flow". He even provided a catch line - "Minimum mistakes and maximum commitment to the fight."

The fact that it was Zimbabwe and a match that didn't matter, did in fact not matter to Shami, who has become the surprise leader of a surprising Indian bowling attack. He has gone from a bowler who took two wickets at 49 in the Carlton Mid tri series not so long ago, to taking 12 wickets at 11.75 - only behind Mitchell Starc in averages - in this World Cup. Before the clash between New Zealand and Bangladesh on Friday, Shami was in the high-quality company of Morne Morkel, Tim Southee and Trent Boult as the leading wicket-takers of the tournament.

"Well it's the World Cup, everyone's eyes are glued to it. Our fans at home, the fans all over the world, our families and everyone else. So our motivation is that somehow we have to win this. It's motivation and a dream that we absolutely have to win, any which way."

Shami and his pace-bowling partners had their first bad match in New Zealand, in Hamilton, conceding more runs in the first ten overs against Ireland than against any other attack. The spinners pulled it back and Shami said the difference between conditions in Australia and New Zealand for the bowlers was the options offered by larger Australian grounds.

"In Australia, the options open up, you have a larger area and you can change your length and bowl slightly more up to them. On smaller grounds, your margin for error is very small. It's those kind of things that stay in your head more, that's the big difference you have to be spot on about."

The chances of India returning to a 'small ground' in New Zealand have now vapourised, Eden Park and Wellington's "Cake Tin" being the Kiwi venues now due World Cup games. India's next match will take place in Australia's grounds where the use of the shoulder and the back-of-length approach have been, it must be hoped, built into the muscle memory of Shami and his buddies.

The venues that India could run into in the knockouts are essentially, only, Melbourne and Sydney. They have done enough to keep themselves from running into New Zealand at their home in either the quarter-final or as the tournament progresses, in the semi-final. This is mainly on the back of an inspired and sustained back of pace and control from Shami and his colleagues.

If Shami and Umesh Yadav have been bowling around 130kph to 145kph, beating the batsmen for pace and movement off the deck, Mohit Sharma's slightly lower band of speed has compensated with a wicket-to-wicket line and an unexpected, skiddy bouncer. While it is the yorker-producing, high velocity left-arm men like Boult, Starc and the fairly under-done Mitchell Johnson who find their names up in bling, the low-wattage efficiency of India's right-handers Shami, Umesh and Mohit, each of them under five an over, have been a pit-lane crew that has kept the Indian engine working.

It is the routine physics and chemistry in the laboratory of bowling: Shami finding the early breakthroughs, with Umesh and Mohit drying up the singles and working with Ashwin at the other end when the batsmen have looked to find their release shots.

But as the World Cup cranks itself into a level of urgency, there is a reminder that, as Shami says, that "at the international level, there are no comfort zones. You have to take that thought of the comfort zone out of your head and live up to whatever challenge is presented to you."

The immediate challenge for Shami is to keep what the football pundits call the "shape" that the Indian bowling unit finds itself in going into what is going to be the fast-forward end of the World Cup. Even though there are only four members left from the 2011 squad, there remain some lingering reminders of that heady campaign.

"In the last World Cup, everyone knew it was paa-ji (Sachin Tendulkar)'s last world cup and so it was bigger, everybody had put themselves into that mission. We want to win this desperately," Shami said, "Because we don't know which of us will be there at the next World Cup and which of us won't, so we're playing this as if this were our last."

It may sound too prophetic and too doomsday with the fast-forward end of the World Cup still 48 hours away. So onto Saturday, the truths are easiest to cling onto: that India are through to the knock-out rounds, Zimbabwe are on their way home, and to the MS Dhoni legend is added another layer of coolness.