In India’s context, to tweak a Marxian reflection, cricket is the opium of people. Their passion for the game is such that it seems a curative of all their travails, transcending all humanly possible barriers. It’s another reason to rejoice, a festival. So the trivial matter of poll-bound speculations and assessments can wait.
Oftentimes, cricket can be a curative, a provisional break from the immediate past. So would hope Team India in the T20 World Cup. For it offers them another shot at redemption. Barring fixtures at home, their form have been nothing less than wretched. Hence, the T20 World Cup, at more or less home-like climes gives them an opportunity to erase their humiliations from the public mindscape.
For solace, and maybe inspiration, they just need to rewind the year 2007. Humbled in the ODI World Cup, there was much pessimism and scepticism amidst the cricket fraternity. This was the lowest ebb of Indian cricket in the noughties. But lo and behold, out of nowhere, a Samson-maned, to-be Alpha male leader lifted the inaugural ICC Trophy in Jo’burg. That was to change Indian cricket, perhaps world cricket. For 10 months later, IPL was born.
Seven years after the epochal night, India are still pursuing their second World T20 title. In this span, the dramatis personae have changed. Joginder Sharma proved a shooting star; S Sreesanth mightily pressed the self-destruct button. Half the cast fizzled out, either grappling with obscurity or resigned to fringe benefits. Returns in the subsequent editions were far from satisfactory, so much so that India’s plight is more like England’s in football. They might have the best-marketed league in the world, but they have mostly fired blanks in recent World Cups and Euros.
But India doubtlessly will be bullish of their chances. It is the closest to their home the World Cup has travelled, and they have capable men to prosper in the conditions. The return of skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina will render them with enough firepower in the middle, a deficiency that proved costly in the Asia Cup.
The latter, for all his deficiencies in the longer versions, is a T20 bully, in fact the only India to have scored a century in T20 internationals. “In Asian conditions, he is a wonderful player, a good finisher, one of the finest fielders in the side and a resourceful bowler. He will certainly add value to the team,” opined former cricketer Arun Lal.
Ditto with Yuvraj, whose utility is immeasurable in the sub-continent. “He is a gritty character and will be pumped up to prove that there is still enough left him to carry on for another few more years. If he clicks, preferably in both batting and bowling, India will be a real contender for the World Cup,” he elaborated.
Though they are still hunting for a fast-bowling all-rounder, it is unlikely to hurt them this time. Stuart Binny, perhaps, has the least chance to play a match. For, India will be typically spin-reliant. Chances are that they might play both Ravichandran Ashwin as well as Amit Mishra. The latter, after his impressive show in the Asia Cup, is almost an automatic choice. In all likelihood, all three might figure. “Mishra has been a very consistent bowler in the IPL. He gets turns and has evolved into a clever bowler,” reckoned former spinner Maninder Singh.
The batting is often taken for granted, but Rohit Sharma has not been in the best of his form. And both openers haven’t clicked collectively. The team management might be tempted to promote Ajinkya Rahane up the order. Or does Dhoni have another surprise in his sleeve, as when he opened with Yusuf Pathan in that final? But Dhoni, with time, has metamorphosed into a more conventional skipper.
To progress to the semifinal, they have to prevail over archrivals Pakistan, defending champions West Indies and a resurgent Australia. Dhoni's leadership skills will be intensely scrutinised. Another early exit and the Jo'bug will seem all the more distant.