Predicting a winner of a tournament in which all the cricketing nations are participating for the title of world champions, is always going to be a hazardous task. It becomes even more difficult to pick and choose, when there is no one team like the West Indies or the Australians of the past, who were so dominant that they declared themselves winners without even a contest.
Although the Indians may want to believe that they are the only favourites, the form book and various other pointers based on the strengths of the team and playing conditions, suggest otherwise. At best India could be termed as one among at least two other sides — England and Australia — to have the chance to win the World Cup.
In this June summer, the weather, as it often does in England, could well become a factor in a team’s win. Even that could not play such an important role given the unbelievable flat nature of the tracks that were provided for the Pakistan series, which most of the times saw scores in excess of 300 runs being chased with surprising ease by an England side that would be extremely disappointed if they don’t win the cup for the first time in their cricketing history. Home advantage apart, England has the batting depth that makes them a formidable foe in any conditions.
Even the Indian bowling, that has unusual variety and depth, may find it difficult to contain sides like England, Australia and even the West Indies, on benign surfaces that encourage neither swing, seam or turn. While the Indian batsmen should relish these batting conditions, it is the bowlers who will have to deliver, if the team has to fancy their chances.
It is here Jasprit Bumrah’s lethalness will be tested. He is, without doubt, the most difficult bowler to face in today’s international cricket. The mix of an uncommon action, the angle at which the ball comes down at the batsman and his express speed become an explosive cocktail that is hard to counter. He could well be the star who ignites this World Cup with his sudden match-winning bursts that may well see India seize advantage from hopeless situations. A fit, mentally fresh Bumrah at his best could well be the man who could give India that extra edge, that turns a close game in their favour.
And if Bumrah is the fulcrum, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, could be the spokes that turn the wheel more and more in India’s favour. These two wrist spinners have ruled the middle overs, not just controlling the run flow but by taking wickets as well. Unlike Bumrah, who could be a handful on any surface, Yadav and Chahal may find lack of any purchase from the tracks not easy to overcome. How they adjust, with what speed or lack of it they bowl and the lines they choose, could well decide the fate of the Indian team.
If Bumrah fires in the beginning and the end while the two spinners become an unsolvable riddle for the batsmen, it is very much possible that India could well end up at the top. It is an unprecedented, welcome development in India’s cricketing history that they will rely on their bowlers to help them overcome their own fragile second-half batting line-up.