âNot for nothing it is said that cricket, like life, is a great leveler. The ODI series loss to South Africa has served to provide a sobering effect as the World Cup fever grips us mad cricket fans. With the sub-continent hosting the quadrennial event, the expectations of an Indian encore of 1983 triumph are already sky high and the defeat to South Africa will help to temper the hopes.
Frankly, I wouldn't attach much significance to the ODI series just concluded in the context of the World Cup. After all, on the biggest stage, it is a different ball game. The adrenalin flow and the intensity are factors we need to reckon with. To top it, the pressure would be immense on all teams, and especially so on the pre-tournament favourites, India included.
India at the World Cup
Remember 1987, 1996 and of course, 2003 editions of the World Cup when the high-flying Indians succumbed to pressure? Thus, the series against South Africa, in my opinion, provided an excellent warm-up for both the teams while providing some insight into the form and fitness of the players. Never mind that the conditions in the Rainbow Nation and the sub-continent are as different as chalk from cheese, but of relevance is the fact that the teams benefitted from the competition.
From India's perspective, the emergence of Kohli and Pathan has been the biggest gain, and there is reason to believe that the duo will have a major role to play in the World Cup. Of equal interest would be the choice of the playing eleven with the return of the three heavyweights - Sachin, Sehwag and Gambhir besides Praveen Kumar. That apart, India would be fielding one of its strongest teams ever in a World Cup and it is to be hoped that they will come good.
Of course, it is early days yet to be discussing the World Cup prospects as some of the major teams are having injury-related problems to solve. As such, we could yet see some changes in the event of players being ruled out on medical grounds.
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For India, it would be a pity to lose the services of coach Kirsten post the World Cup. The players themselves have credited the team's rise in the past couple of seasons to the good work put in by the former South African opening batsman who has been the man behind every Indian success during his tenure. His unobtrusive presence and a deep insight of the game have been factors that have contributed to his stature that has won him offers from South Africa and the Mumbai Indians. Kirsten would be missed for sure.
No doubt, this is getting ahead of the World Cup, but I feel that Kirsten would like his last hurrah as the India team coach to be memorable. In this context, he would be the other key man in India's World Cup campaign.
While the Indian cricketers take a welcome break ahead of the World Cup, the focus is on their compatriots, Lee and Hesh, who are attempting a career doubles Grand Slam as a team. They are in the final where they come up against the Bryan brothers and should the Indian pair win, it would be a historic occasion as they would only be the eighth combination to do so.
World Cup 2011
That has been the main motivating factor for Lee and Hesh to get together, putting aside their differences that had led them to split some seven years ago. If anything, they still have something left in the tank and though neither was willing to discuss their doubles plans this season, let us hope that the two will stick on through the year.