"The body achieves what the mind believes,” goes one of those one-liners without any credible claim to who coined it. The words are beautifully apt in the world of sports. Champions in droves have spoken about the importance of mental aspect in the larger process. It’s one of those elements that make a difference when the gap between competitors narrows and it becomes a clash of equals.
As the 12th cricket World Cup dawns on the horizon, the Indian team seems to radiate a feeling that it dreams big. Virat Kohli has said everyone in his team believes they can win anywhere.
Sticking strictly to the 50-over format, they have walked the talk. In 28 matches starting from 2018, India have 20 wins with six defeats and two tied verdicts.
Just five of these fixtures were on home soil, which shows that the team has what it takes to win consistently in conditions expected to be more in the favour of the opposition.
Results and the authority with which they have been achieved make Kohli’s team the first from India to be approaching a World Cup outside the subcontinent as a firm favourite.
They are still behind England in ODI rankings and it is the only country they have not won in recent months.
But looking back at 2015, 2007, 2003 when other nations hosted cricket’s quadrennial carnival this century, never did the Men in Blue go into the event as the team to beat. Despite being defending champions in 2015, a floundering build-up had lowered expectations and in the end semifinals was seen as a satisfactory outcome.
Exit at that stage might be seen as catastrophic if it happens this time.
His mannerisms may divide opinion as well as winning him fans by the millions, there is no denying that Kohli’s obsession-like urge to win has had an impact on this mindset.
Arguably the best contemporary batsman in all formats combined and inarguably the best when it comes to batting second in one-dayers, Kohli is also a fitness freak who spends long periods doing fielding practice after the others are done. More often than not in team sports, examples of the captain trying to constantly raise the bar have an inspiring effect on the rest.
“You can’t say that teams of the past were short on belief, but Kohli leading from the front has added an edge to this bunch,” says Ashish Nehra.
“The captain’s positive frame of mind and energy can be infectious. They try all the time and don’t give up when they appear to be down. Both of India’s departments are clicking and the manner of victory is convincing. It’s not just about Kohli leading a chase. Fitness levels of the whole team has gone up. The way the captain thinks makes a difference,” adds the member of the teams which won the 2011 World Cup and finished second in 2003, who also played under Kohli.
An attack taking wickets in all conditions and most stages of an innings is the major reason causing optimism. They won matches in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, where visiting sides generally have a poor record.
Home team batsmen were struggling against different facets of pace bowling and an unique left-right wrist spin combo.
Question marks remain in the middle-order, but the batting unit has managed to keep them from becoming a major headache. Known as a heavy batting artillery in conditions limiting bowlers, this is a more well-rounded team.
Does it mean they are ticking all boxes? “The way they have been playing makes one hopeful,” feels Madan Lal. This member of the 1983 pioneers advises continuity at this stage instead of anything new.
“It’s performance highlighted by bowling which has led to expectations. They should stay normal and do what they have been. Expectations can be a double-edged sword. Too much of it can work against you. This lot has shown good attitude. They should concentrate on the present and the process which has got them here.”
The mention of caution is important this time. There are no non-Test nations in the 10-team, all-play-all format from which the semifinalists will be picked like in 1992.
This reduces the number of easy games established teams got in the last few editions.
Almost every outing is important and from India’s point of view, it is crucial to ensure that everybody stays fit after the IPL, which has contributed to or aggravated niggles in the past.
There are two blips in India’s impressive ODI record over the last two years. Both came in England. In the 2017 Champions Trophy final against Pakistan, Kohli’s team was outplayed and then last year in the middle of a strong away run, they lost the ODI series 1-2 against the hosts.
Heading into a long tournament where one bad day can undo months of hard work, it’s imperative to make sure that the odd slip doesn’t lead to a major setback. Top-order earning plaudits and bowling causing fear among the opposition, the task of the middle-order is to be consistent because there will be days when No 1, 2 and 3 fail.
“It’s a thin line between confidence and over-confidence. International cricket has produced surprising results in the last few weeks. Even if you look at the World Cup, India exceeded expectations in 2003 and fell short in 2007. As a former player, I look more at the process than results. It’s important to focus, stick to methods that has got the results and not take things for granted,” Nehra reminds of the importance of having feet on the ground.
If attention to the process doesn’t dwindle and nobody suffers breakdowns in the days leading to the World Cup, a group of Indians will board for England believing they can do it.