With new zeal, India look to bury demons of past

On Tuesday, it seemed different. The buzz and excitement in the sea breeze are palpable despite the inherent pollution you can feel.

Published: 15th November 2023 06:44 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th November 2023 06:44 AM   |  A+A-

Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli

'Hopefully, fortune will favour the brave': India's captain Rohit Sharma (L) talks with teammate Virat Kohli during a practice session. (Photo | AFP)

Express News Service

MUMBAI:  The streets of Colaba are abuzz. They are filled with people, and tourists all through the day so much so that if you stand at any point in the street, the crowd will take you forward all by itself. In fact, it is what a regular day in the commercial capital of India looks like. 

On Tuesday, it seemed different. The buzz and excitement in the sea breeze are palpable despite the inherent pollution you can feel. In Colaba, everywhere you turn, you can see vendors selling India’s replica jerseys. Pick one and the vendor would say it’s `950 bucks, before convincing you to buy the one he has for `550. The hotels are being swarmed by fans who have travelled to watch the game. 

At the Wankhede Stadium, final preparations are underway as the iconic venue is set to host what is probably the most significant cricket game they have hosted since April 2, 2011. India vs New Zealand. Semifinal. 2023 ICC Men’s ODI World Cup.

This movie has been screened before. In Old Trafford four years ago against the same team. In Sydney, against Australia eight years ago. The Men in Blue would dominate the tournament up until the semifinal only to fall short there. It’s a movie that has given heartbreaks to a billion people year after year in every ICC event in the last decade. This time, however, it seems different. One can feel the hope in the air.

This Rohit Sharma-led Indian team has been unstoppable. They have the best batters of the tournament, including Sharma and Virat Kohli. Five among their top seven batters average well over 50 with three striking above run-a-ball. All five — Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja — have taken more than ten wickets (three of them average less than 20), taking turns to win the Player of the Match awards.

As a group, they have made a mockery of the term ‘contest’ outplaying every opponent, except one team. New Zealand. The Black Caps are the only team that got in their faces and made them work. Even though India beat them in the league stages, it did not come easy. That is why, the semifinal against New Zealand at Mumbai is poetic in more than one way. 

For starters, it is the team that has been India’s nemesis in world meets for a while — 2016 World T20 league game, 2019 WC semifinal, and 2021 World Test Championship final, 2021 World T20 league game. And it’s a team that has the resources to test this Indian team at this venue. The shorter boundaries and conditions will help New Zealand take on Indian spinners and they also have the seam attack to trouble the Indian top-order.  

The trophy drought of this Indian team is vastly talked and discussed about. India have not won an ICC trophy in ten years. In this decade, India entered two T20 WC semifinals, two ODI World Cup semifinals, a Champions Trophy, and two WTC finals. For a team that began its transition in the same year as they won their last ICC title, it is not all that bad. But lack of a trophy for the sports’ only financial behemoth is jarring. Not a champion unless you become one of the world. The players know it too. That could be why some of them, including Sharma, probably playing their last World Cup want to win the trophy badly. He said as much at the start of the event. While acknowledging that there is unfinished business and he is desperate to an extent to hold that trophy aloft come November 19, Sharma insisted on finding a balance. 

Sharma also mentioned the one thing that India hasn’t had in World Cup knockouts — luck. “Obviously we have to leave a lot of things to Almighty as well because we need that little bit of luck in the tournament. I hope we get that luck. But yeah, it will be nice to win a World Cup,” he had said in Chennai before the game against Australia. 

Two games away from making that dream come true, Sharma reflected on the league stage, saying that it is all about breaking down into parts and moving forward. “Nine games is a lot of games, literally two or three bilateral series. With different games and different venues, you have to break it down into different styles and strategies as well. I think we did that well. In the first half, we chased the first five games, and next four, we batted first. In terms of areas we wanted to cover, we have covered almost every bit of it. We do understand the importance of this week but for us, I don’t think we need to do anything different from what we have been doing in this tournament. There will be challenges. You just got to respond, front up, and get through that situation,” Sharma said on Tuesday before adding, “Now the time has come, you need a little bit of luck to go your way. Obviously, we are going to be brave enough. Hopefully, fortune will favour the brave.”

The demons of the semifinal have chased India at ICC events for far too long now. On Wednesday, India have a chance to bury the demons at a venue where they conquered the world 12 years ago. This current crop has the ability to reach the first global white ball final since 2017. Will they? Only time will tell.

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