Sept 29th 2023 : India’s Asia Cup win as well as the Indian women’s Asian Games gold medal victory in cricket are just the precursor to the curtain raiser that is still to come.
Cricket will soon take over the lives of millions of Indians. The Cricket World Cup ’23 commences on October 5 in the largest cricket stadium in the World, Ahmedabad. The stadium is a colossal structure that accommodates more than a hundred thousand spectators. The noise during the match is deafening and the massive collection of people can make a faint-hearted cricketer very uncertain and nervous.
England, the reigning champions play New Zealand, a match the latter would like to see in their favour. A perfect revenge for the lady-luck who left them 4 years ago. England, on the other hand, have been instrumental in transforming the way cricket, as they feel, needs to be played in all the formats of the game. The conservative approach that they took to be successful earlier has now been turned upside down. Aggressive, risky and result based approach has made them into a dangerous unit.
England, therefore, are presently one of the front runners to win and retain the Trophy. They have a well-balanced side and with such a positive approach, they will definitely be a difficult side to beat for all the others.
India in India, will always be the favourites. To kick start one’s adrenaline a sportsman needs the crowd to be behind them. The Indian players will have that in plenty and that should be a terrific catalyst for them to exceed and excel in their performances.
India, finally have their squad relatively in place and their players in just the form that one hopes to have them in. Individually, each of their selected players have done well recently.
However, India did manage to win 2-1 in the ODI bilateral series against Australia, losing the last match, is a matter of concern. Going into a major tournament like the World Cup, a loss is not what one wants on the sheet before the big day. The Indian side was on a high after winning the Asia Cup, whereas, Australia was struggling to get their act together. This win has brought Australia, mentally back into the fray and a confident Australian side is dangerous on all accounts. India will need to start their campaign with a bang as they play Australia in their very first match. A loss could prove to be difficult for them to overcome mentally.
One wonders whether the series against Australia was really necessary and one hopes this may not prove to be the Achilles heel in India’s quest to win the cup.
One was so glad to learn about the warm welcome that the Pakistan cricket team received when they flew into Hyderabad to play their warm-up games. Sports, as one says, has no boundaries and as India being the host nation all political agendas and biases should be put to rest. Pakistan has two of the worlds best amongst them, Babar Azam, their captain and leading batter and the other being their lethal fast left arm bowler, Shaheen Shah Afridi. Both of them are match winners and a treat for all to watch.
The round robin format of each team playing one another and the travel around India will be rather exhausting for players. This will require enormous mental strength and resilience from each one of them, as the full duration of the World Cup is 45 days.
Travel across India can be quite interesting, as one goes through such diverse cultures, languages, food and living conditions, however, this can also be unsettling if one is not used to it.
Fan adulation may seem wonderful from the outside but for players to be cooped -up between the hotel and the ground can be very daunting. This is where mental strength comes into play and to keep each player of the team focused and driven will be a challenge for the coach and the support staff accompanying them.
The area that one misses out analyzing is fielding. The grounds in India are quite hard and so the ball travels much faster. Although the outfield these days are lush green, the hardness underneath can be strenuous on one’s legs. The twists and turns can lead to injuries. Ken Williamson, the New Zealand captain, became a victim of it in the last IPL. The ball too travels much faster in the air. With a stadium full of colorfully attired spectators, sighting a catch or stopping the ball can be very difficult. This especially relates to the way in which the ball is being struck very forcefully these days by the meaty bats in use presently.
The beauty of playing cricket in India, is the variables that one encounters as regards the wickets, weather and the playing conditions. Captains and coaches are always in a dilemma as to predicting the state of the pitch which is at most times a mystery. The data analysts are kept busy with records of the past history and former scores. However, this may be an indicator but never one that can be relied upon.
India as the sole host of the prestigious World Cup tournament makes it a fabulous feather in their cap. There is nothing like watching the best cricket players live in action. Even as a cricketer, the pleasure one gets to see the greats of the game in action, as well as to play against them, are memories that remain etched forever.
For the millions of Indian cricket followers, lost in cricket fever, it will be a wonderful experience to savor.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer. The views expressed are personal)