India know this better than most sides. Their problem over the past decade has been at the business end of ICC tournaments. The lower order batting is as yet untested. Hardik Pandya’s recovery from the ankle injury he suffered in the last game against Bangladesh is crucial for the team balance. It is more or less assured that India will reach the knockout stage of the tournament.
INDIA IN OMINOUS TOUCH
With four wins out of four, the hosts are playing like the favourites they have been talked up as. Moving the ball both ways at pace, Jasprit Bumrah has been magical. Ravindra Jadeja has been excellent with the ball and electric on the field. Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Shubman Gill and KL Rahul have all been among the runs. Sharma, particularly, has been sensational.
Having changed his approach to the batting powerplay, he has given the innings rocket fuel. His strike rate in the first powerplay in 2023 is 111.58; in 2022, it was 100.68 – the two best of his ODI career. But storming through the group phase is no guarantee of ultimate success. India know this better than most sides. Their problem over the past decade has been at the business end of ICC tournaments. The lower order batting is as yet untested. Hardik Pandya’s recovery from the ankle injury he suffered in the last game against Bangladesh is crucial for the team balance. It is more or less assured that India will reach the knockout stage of the tournament. Whether they are able to maintain this balance and intensity in that phase is what will determine their fate in this World Cup.
AUSTRALIA ARE BACK, BUT WORRIES REMAIN
The five-time champions’ pounding of Pakistan was brutal. But it was not a collective batting effort. Rather, it was simply David Warner and Mitchell Marsh. Between them, they scored 284 of Australia’s total of 367 for 9. The first wicket fell at 259. After that, it was 108 for 8. Their catching has been woeful. And fatigue will play a part after a long, draining season. Nevertheless, it is silly to rule out Australia’s chances in a World Cup.
MISSING KANE? NOT REALLY
Like India, New Zealand also have four wins out of four. Their captain, Kane Williamson, is out injured again. But Tom Latham, the stand-in captain, is a shrewd operator. They are stacked with talent at the top of the order. They have players who can pick up the tempo. And their bowling is purposeful, intelligent and can be lethal.
PAKISTAN NEED THIS TRIO TO KEEP DELIVERING
Mohammad Rizwan, Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf will be crucial to Pakistan’s fortunes in this tournament. Rizwan is now arguably the world’s leading No. 4 batter in ODIs. He has already lit up the tournament. Afridi and Rauf were instrumental in pulling Australia back from a position in which it seemed likely that they would score anything between 400 and 450. Both need to maintain that fiery form. Runs from Babar Azam won’t hurt either.
THE SEMIS RACE IS GETTING HOTTER
In the current format, it is unlikely that any team will win all their nine games in the group stages. Seven wins should, in theory, be enough. In 2019, with the same format, New Zealand qualified for the semifinal with five victories. Without disrespect, it is probably safe to say that Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, the Netherlands and Bangladesh will not make it.
So, from the remaining six sides – India, Pakistan, England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand – and four of them former champions, two will have to miss out. Which two will it be?
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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