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World Cup 2015
Just over two weeks to go before India begin their World Cup defence, and the team inspires little confidence. Yet, like in 2011, this is just a three-match knockout tournament, and I think India have enough time to settle down and work out their best line-up. Loss(es) early on to South Africa and/or (cricketing gods forbid) Pakistan could push them down to third place in Pool B though, and risk facing Australia or New Zealand in the quarter-final.

We have two warm-up games, against Australia and Afghanistan, and this is the starting XI I would like to try out (with like-for-like substitutes over the tournament):

  1. Ajinkya Rahane

  2. Shikhar Dhawan

  3. Virat Kohli

  4. Rohit Sharma

  5. Suresh Raina

  6. MS Dhoni

  7. Stuart Binny (Bhuvi Kumar)

  8. Akshar Patel (Ravi Jadeja)

  9. Ashwin Ravi

  10. Mohit Sharma (Mohd. Shami)

  11. Umesh Yadav

  • Ambati Rayudu

Multiple points of note:

  • Two spinners are likely to feature in most, if not all, of India's line-ups, in contrast with most other teams, as that's the only way Dhoni knows to play, and has been successful more often that not.

  • Stuart Binny is the weakest link in a weak bowling "attack". Yet the best India can do without weakening the batting perilously is to play Patel / Jadeja at seven and bring in Bhuvi Kumar / Mohd. Shami at nine.

  • Rohit Sharma has a stated preference to open and has indeed opened when available, and who can argue with two double-hundreds and his extra time against fast bowling, but doesn't the line-up look so much more solid with Rohit at four, and then the incredible threat he poses late in the innings?

  • Ambati Rayudu, I deliberately leave on the bench. Dhoni did him no favours in the tri-series asking him to float up and down in the order and bat aggressively, instead of building an innings as he possibly can, but I wouldn't have had him in the squad at all.

  • Robin Uthappa then was the man to pick, who could've played as a finisher, or opened if Dhawan continued to struggle.

Overall, I think India have at best the fifth-best squad in the World Cup, behind South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and England, but I wouldn't write us off yet. We have at least a couple of match-winners with the bat, and MS Dhoni might have one last bag of tricks before riding off into a CSK-hued sunset. (Surely he won't have the zest to continue beyond? I won't miss him much, but thank you, well done, and enjoy the IPL.) The key for me is to get the batting unit to build innings and not continue with the scatter-brained slapdash they've played in the tri-series, as if they were batting back home in India.

Barring upset(s), the quarter-final line-up should be straighforward, with the probable winners:

  • A1: New Zealand  vs.   B4: West Indies

  • A2: Australia          vs.   B3: Pakistan

  • A3: England           vs.   B2: India

  • A4: Sri Lanka         vs.   B1: South Africa

Martin Crowe has called an England victory over India, but I wouldn't be so sure. The game is in Adelaide, and India have the better pedigree in big-match one-day cricket. And then come semi-final time, well, the World Cup should finally be alive, and worth watching and enjoying instead of predicting from here.

A few more assorted thoughts to finish:

  • ICC would have done well to go back to the super-six format of 1999 or 2003, rather than this seven-match tournament. The super-eight format of 2007 of course risks eliminating one of the big-eight too early on. I think cricket will see its first FIFA style 32 team - 64 game World Cup in the Twenty20 version of the game, somewhere in the next decade.

  • With the fielding restrictions, this Cup could well be decided by the strength of the weakest link, often the all-rounder at No.7 or thereabouts. Who will hold up best? Corey Anderson, James Faulkner / Mitchell Marsh / Glen Maxwell, Moeen Ali / Ravi Bopara, Thisara Perera, JP Duminy / Farhaan Berhadien, Shahid Afridi, Stuart Binny, or Darren Sammy / Andre Russell?

  • India will take the field at a World Cup without one Sachin Tendulkar for the first time in twenty-eight years, and what a presence he was in his six appearances starting back in Australia / NZ in 1992. Yet, his delayed exit from the ODI team cost us a year in putting together the current squad.

  • That first World Cup of his in 1992 is part of my generation's earliest (and quite fond) cricketing memories. Exciting then to see another World Cup Down Under. The idea was to be there in person, but well, two Cups in two years proved to be one too many.

That's that for now then, see you on Valentine's Day!


Previously here on Notes, a post on the WC 2011 squad.
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Rohit @ number 4 does make batting look stable, well thought.

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