Whisper it softly. Are there any glaring weaknesses in this Indian cricket team at the 2023 ODI World Cup?
When you dominate the group stage and go into the semi-finals as the only team yet to lose a match, with an impeccable 9-0 record, and you’ve not been really tested by any of your opponents, something special has to be brewing. When you can carry a couple players who have not hit optimum level yet – Shubman Gill, Mohammed Siraj – you’ve got all bases covered. When you can accommodate Virat Kohli slowing down when he nears a century, because you have an opener in Rohit Sharma who puts up big runs in the Powerplay overs, you have a solid template. When you aren’t missing your vice-captain and pivotal allrounder, Hardik Pandya, you’re clearly doing something right.
When, really, were India put under pressure in this World Cup? So far back is India’s score line of 2/3 – October 8, against Australia, to be precise – that is resembles a cigarette butt chucked out of a moving car’s window on the highway, leaving a red path in the rearview mirror as it flies through the night. And the one match that went close, against New Zealand in Dharamsala, India still won comfortably by four wickets.
This is a very solid Indian team. So solid, that despite being kept on the field by tenth-ranked Netherlands in the final group stage match of the World Cup on Sunday, it won by 160 runs on an evening in which Kohli, Gill, Suryakumar Yadav and Rohit rolled their arms over. Yes, we all know that India’s real challenge is the semi-finals, where New Zealand stand in their way, but this team has hardly had to break from its template at home. There’s a reason, after all, why since 2015 India have been virtually unbeatable in ODIs at home.
The last match against Netherlands was an extended nets session, and India posted 410/4 in 50 overs. Rohit got another fifty, Gill fell to his own eagerness and a top catch from Teja Nidamanuru at long leg, Kohli extended his run tally to top of the charts, Shreyas Iyer continued his hot streak and KL Rahul smashed the fastest World Cup century by an Indian, off 62 deliveries. Netherlands kept India on the field for 47.5 overs, but the margin of victory was in keeping with India’s form in the competition.
Yes, if anything happens to one of the five bowlers in the semi-final this week, India will struggle to turn to a sixth option. Kohli picked up a wicket on Sunday for the first time since January 2014, and Rohit bowled for the first time since 2016. Far from ideal, and against New Zealand this will not work like it did against Netherlands. But the sustained excellence of the five bowlers used since Pandya injured himself indicates that India will continue to take wickets and set themselves a gettable target, should they have to chase at the Wankhede Stadium.
And here’s the differentiator between the top four teams at this World Cup and the teams that failed to make it. The four semi-finalists all have players not operating anywhere near their best, but the collective brilliance of others have covered those areas. South Africa can afford to play Temba Bavuma because six of the top seven have been scoring runs. Anrich Nortje has not been missed because South Africa’s bowlers have consistently taken ten wickets. New Zealand have put up big totals and almost chased 389 without having Kane Williamson. Australia are in the semi-finals despite playing a majority of their matches with Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne in the same team.
India have kept on winning when Gill has been nowhere near his ODI greatness in 2023, when Mohammed Siraj has had more off days than good and when Iyer and Rahul were struggling. Thus, going into the semis with Iyer and Rahul scoring centuries is a definite morale-booster.
India are the team to beat, and unlike the past two ODI World Cups, one does not get the feeling that those proverbial “bad 45 minutes” lie ahead in the knockouts. This is testament to how well prepared India came into this tournament, and how the term ‘home advantage’ has really lived up to its billing.