The selection of the Kohli-led merry band of men for the most prestigious cricket tournament, the World Cup 2019, has never been so intensely discussed before. India seems to be the red hot favourites to lift the cup and so for the millions of fans, the sparkle of another World Cup victory seems eminently possible. This has, therefore, excited the brain cells of most Indian cricket followers.
The cricket World Cup, since its inception in 1975, had created an aura of recognizing the team that wins it as the World Champions. The 1975 Cup was the first time when all the top cricket sides of the world competed against each other. The popularity of the football World Cup must have had a significant impact, as cricket fans from all over the world, finally had something to look forward to just like football. The time frame of four years between each cup, like the Olympics and the Football World Cup, made it even more
similar. The victories by the West Indies in the first two World Cups in 1975 and 1979 further enhanced the acceptance of the final result. The top-rated Test side also happened to also be the winners of the limited overs version.
In India, the World Cup in 1975 and 1979 did not generate much interest as India was still considered to be minnows in world cricket. The International Cricket Council (ICC) based in London also had a non-caring attitude towards India. In 1979, they were made to travel to cold Scarborough in North Yorkshire to play practice matches against their main rivals, Pakistan. The weather did not make it possible for both the teams to play a serious match, but it led to a life-long friendship between the players.
Being part of the 1979 Indian side, I still cherish the pleasant interaction between the Pakistan side and us. The most memorable moment was when all the top 8 international teams were lined up for a group photograph on the hallowed turf, facing Lords, the Mecca of cricket. Rubbing shoulders with the best cricketers of the world was a dream afternoon. Cricket took precedence over everything else, a golden moment as one can term it.
Cricket in India grew by leaps and bounds with the 1983 World Cup win. A surprising win by a team that the bookmakers ranked as complete outsiders shocked the cricketing world. The win brought to mind the famous biblical story of David and Goliath. The mighty West Indies were brought down by the then lowly considered India, from a situation that seemed impossible. Cricket and the uncertainty of the game, came through winning.
India, since then, hoped for another win and this finally did happen after 28 years, in 2011 at home. The team selection was never the focal point of any discussion as Indian supporters were more concerned about the outcome rather than each individual.
The Indian team under the captaincy of Virat Kohli has an entirely different pressure. The team is the front-runner to lift the Cup and so selection has become important. The team's core structure of players has now been reasonably established. The team management, along with the captain, has ensured that the players who they felt were of prime importance have now sealed their place. The way that each position has been identified and players tried and tested for it to make their mark, shows the professionalism that has now come about in the selection process. There seems to be a focus and transparent approach between the selectors, captain, senior players and the coach as to their requirements.
This itself shows how India has finally matured in the team selection process in a professional manner and this should pave the way for a much better system in the future.
Virat Kohli is not only achieving wonders with his bat but is also showing remarkable leadership qualities. The foremost of which is his ability to use the brilliant cricketing brain of India's most successful former captain, M.S.Dhoni. India, at present have astrong One day side. They have two of the best-limited overs batters in Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. But what has been an extraordinary development in Indian cricket, is the bowling. The speedsters Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar and Shami are bowling brilliantly. They along with the wrist spin of the right-handed Yuzvendra Chahal and the left-handed Kuldeep Yadav makes them together, one of the most lethal bowling attacks in the world.
The only problem that India may face is that in June the weather is cold and wet in England and the wicket and atmosphere during that period is not very conducive for a wrist spinner. The main area of concern for India will be their batting in the middle and lower order. The last four tail-end batsmen's contribution has been abysmal, to say the least and if the Indian top order batsmen fail to fire, then the chances of getting a good total drastically reduces. M.S. Dhoni no more inspires the confidence of demolishing a pace attack and the consistency amongst the other middle order batsmen is still a question mark.
The Indian side will need to acclimatize themselves quickly to the cold, heavy weather conditions in June in England. India has always struggled to do so in the past. The defining moments will be, as to whether this talented Indian side can beat the weather and the movement that the ball generates off the wicket and in the air.
There is a buzz and confidence in the present Indian side that has never been seen earlier and this merry band of men do have the ability to establish themselves as true champions!
(The writer is a former Test cricketer)