Tough, but not impossible

Shambolic is a strong word. But this Indian team better get used to copping some heat. The aftermath of their loss to Bangladesh is not going to be couched in understanding by Indian fans, and yet, all hope is not lost. There's still a chance that they might pickpocket their way to the next round. It won't be easy, and it will be far from stress free, but it still is possible.

Ever since Kapil's Devils won the World Cup in 1983, the excitement surrounding one-day cricket's premier tournament has grown exponentially with each successive edition. That win was, in many ways, the best thing that happened to Indian cricket, but in some ways is also the worst thing teams that followed have to deal with. Irrespective of the actual strength of the Indian team, their chances of success in certain conditions or a tournament of a specific format, the expectations have been sky high.

This edition was no different. For once, though, there was just the sense that it was not unreasonable to hope for some degree of success. No one believed that India walked into the tournament being favourites to win it, yet few would seriously entertain the thought that they were incapable of reaching the semifinals. All the pre-tournament talk hinged on how important the Super 8s phase was. It was just a given that India would stroll into the Super 8s, and then the real tournament would begin.

Well, here's a reality check. After Bangladesh beat India, the road to the next phase is not merely uphill, it's winding, narrow, has a few landmines buried on the way and without luck progress might be impossible. Going into what the team - and certain individuals - need to do, is best left to Rahul Dravid, the captain, and Greg Chappell, the coach, but the equations are fairly simple.

If India are to have any chance of making it to the Super 8s, the first thing they need to do is beat Bermuda - black and blue - on March 19. Sri Lanka have already handed Bermuda a cricketing lesson they're unlikely to forget that ended in a 243-run walloping that gives them a massive leg up when it comes to net run rates. India need to perform a similar feat, and then wake up fresh and cheery for what was touted as their only tough game of the first phase.

On March 23, India will need to beat Sri Lanka to stay alive in the competition. If they do manage the feat - and a defeat to Bangladesh notwithstanding, there is no reason why they can't do so - the job will still not be done, unless the margin of victory boosts India's net run-rate ahead of Sri Lanka's. The problem with losing to a team like Bangladesh is that it puts your destiny in the hands of others.

If India lose to Sri Lanka, they can pack their bags and head home. If they cross that hurdle, then they will have to either turn up at the Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad on March 25 and cheer for Bermuda, or sit with fingers crossed in their hotel rooms. The advantage Bangladesh have is that they are playing the last match of Group B, against Bermuda. At that stage, if all has gone according to plan for India - and nothing has so far - then it will be down to net run rates. And Bangladesh will go into that game knowing exactly what the score is. They will know precisely what they need to do push themselves ahead of India on the charts.
So, for India, it's not any more a case of merely winning their games and not worrying about anything else. For a while now the focus has been on controlling the controllables and not getting worked up about the rest. Now, with one loss to Bangladesh, all that has changed. Rained-out matches could make a difference, tied-games can steer the course in an entirely different direction.

The one thing Indian fans have taken out of every World Cup, irrespective of the team's performance, is that the old enemy, Pakistan, has always been vanquished. Some time ago, a leading Indian television news channel did a special show on what the India-Pakistan clash in the 2007 World Cup would be like. The fighting Irish have sent Pakistan packing. Have Bangladesh done the same to India?

India's considerable hopes still hang by a slender thread, but in the past, like Pakistan in 1992, that has proven to be enough.