India will be defending champions in the ICC World Cup 2015 © Getty Images
India will be defending champions in the ICC World Cup 2015 © Getty Images

The ICC World Cup 2015 is less than two months away. While all and sundry is analysing India’s strengths and weaknesses, Sayantan Sen explains the fact it is quite ironical that whenever India has performed well in the tournament, it has been against expectations.

Out of 10 World Cups played till now, India have reached the final thrice — in 1983, 2003, and 2011. If we look back and see all the tournaments, there were certain facts and statistics which favoured or not favoured India to win the cup and it seems India have always proved everybody wrong.

India’s performance was terrible in the first two World Cups.(and even that is being polite): they won only one match against East Africa in 1975 and even lost to Sri Lanka (a non-Test playing nation at that time) in 1979. The two tournaments can somewhat be ignored to prove this paradox.

1983

If India were not the winners, we could have excluded in this analysis, but in this edition of World Cup, India proved everyone wrong and also ignored all statistical predictions and historical trend.

India were certainly not favourites going into the World Cup.

  • India was the weakest Test Playing nation for third time in a row
  • West Indies were unbeaten in the World Cup history till then
  • No one predicted the world champions to be beaten twice (once in the final and once in the league phase)
  • In the era of pace bowling, Indian team had no genuine fast bowler and had no world-class batsmen other than Sunil Gavaskar (though Mohinder Amarnath was in sublime form), who unfortunately never enjoyed playing that format
  • The team was loaded with all-rounders, of whom Kapil Dev was the only genuine one. There were batsmen who could bowl (Mohinder Amarnath) and bowlers who could bat (Ravi Shastri, Roger Binny, and Madan Lal) along with Kirti Azad, but hardly a match-winning bowler

Yet, India proved everybody wrong for the right reason. It remains arguably the biggest upset in the history of World Cup finals.

1987

  • Along with Pakistan, India were the favourites. Not only were they the defending champions, but they were also hosting the World Cup.
  • This was also the World Cup where the team with the strongest spinning side were tipped as favourites as both Maninder Singh and Ravi Shastri were bowling beautifully with Laxman Sivaramakrishnan as back-up.
  • India had a very experienced one-day team with all barring Navjot Sidhu having experience under their belts.

India played well  in the league stage. They lost a solitary match, against Australia at Madras, and that too by a solitary run but failed to qualify for the final when they lost to Mike Gatting’s England in the semi-final. India (along with Pakistan) did prove everybody wrong by not winning the cup in spite of almost every statistics and historical trend favouring their win.

1992

Having spent the summer Down Under, India was one of the strong contenders. Everyone knew India might struggle; Australia has never been a good hunting ground for India. Other that Australia (being the host and being the number one team in team ranking by quite a few notches) and England there were no clear favourites. India were among the top four contenders. Factors which favoured India were:

  • India had a very strong side. Like in 1987, they had a very experienced side
  • It was also the first World Cup where India, for the first time, had a pace bowling attack to back Kapil Dev: the line-up included Manoj Prabhakar, Javagal Srinath and Subroto Banerjee

The performances was disastrous. They put up fights against England and Australia (once again they lost by a solitary run) and also beat Pakistan, but that was it. They finished with two wins and an abandoned match. India finished seventh out of nine teams, finishing just above Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

1996

India were clear favourites for this World-Cup, because:

  • Being played in sub-continent condition India were again considered the favourites.
  • An outstanding batting line-up that consisted of of Tendulkar, Sidhu, Vinod Kambli, Sanjay Manjrekar, Mohammad Azharuddin, and Ajay Jadeja
  • India were playing all their matched in well-known Indian venue turning tracks like Cuttack, Gwalior, Mumbai and Delhi

Despite of all the buzz, India were not able to deliver as per potential; they were thrashed by Sri Lanka in the league match, and lost miserably to eventual winner Sri Lanka in the semi-final.

1999

World Cup was back to England and India was again considered as a cup contender.

  • India’s famous trio of Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly was already the most talked about batting line-up
  • They also had two experienced bowlers in Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble, and India’s most experienced World Cup captain in Azhar

Unfortunately, the tournament turned out to be yet another disappointment for India. India lost to Zimbabwe and always struggled to qualify in spite of defeating Pakistan (again). This was the last World Cup where Azhar captained. The tournament marked the end of the road for him as Indian captain.

2003

No one actually gave Indian team enough chances as this World Cup was in South Africa. The entire world knew how miserable India were on bouncy pitches. India went into the tournament after a horror tour of New Zealand where they lost the Test series 0-2 and the ODI series 2-5.

India started on a poor note, having to fight in their opening match against Netherlands and being humiliated by Australia. The fans back home were anguished; they even resorted to throwing tar on Mohammad Kaif’s house, and things got so out of control that Tendulkar had to address the public through the media to have patience.

However, things turned around. The pace battery consisting of Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra were brilliant; Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid and Yuvraj Singh were all among runs; and India did a marvellous job as a fielding unit.

They were mauled by Australia in the final after an eight-match winning streak. In fact, they did not lose to any other team. The defeat in the final hurt, but India had surpassed expectations.

2007

This was probably India’s worst World Cup performance since 1979 despite having an excellent side.

  • India were third in ICC ODI ranking after Australia and South Africa
  • Entire cricketing world thought that it might be the last World Cup for the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, and Kumble, the team was expected to ensure their champions went out on a high

India proved everybody wrong by being the one of the three Test sides (Pakistan and Zimbabwe being the others) Test-playing nations to be knocked out of the tournament in the first round.

2011

India were definitely favourites, but not much was expected from this team as

  • The team was without Ganguly and Dravid for the first time since 1999, while Tendulkar was also ageing. India had a group of youngsters ready to take up the challenge with Tendulkar and Sehwag the experienced names
  • No other host nation has won the World Cup before barring Sri Lanka (in 1996, Zimbabwe and Kenya were the only teams to visit Sri Lanka due to political unrest)
  • Gary Kirsten was the third glorified foreign coach and it was increasingly becoming a taboo (especially following Greg Chappell’s troubled tenure) for India cricket rather than a good strategy
  • No other teams have ever won a WC with wicket-keeper captain (MS Dhoni was leading India)
  • India also had a squad with nine members Who had never played a World Cup

But this was a World Cup where Indian Team was able to fulfil every Indian dream; to everyone’s surprise they won this edition of the cup beating almost all the test-playing team on their path to the crown (lost to South Africa in the last over and tied with England during the group league).

What will happen in 2015?

Are India the favourites? Probably. They are the among the top ODI sides and have claimed their dominance almost in all major tournaments since last four years. With this history in the backdrop and India having a uncanny trend of proving history wrong will India fail to win this time? Well, we should then try to find few odds which build a case against this team.

Factors that will not favour India are:

  • The venues. India have seldom done well in Australia and New Zealand.
  • India had sent their team early to Australia in 1992 to get acclimatised to the conditions. They went to Australia four months before the tournament, but the Test series and Benson & Hedges disasters made the strategy backfire. India is doing the same this time. Why playing a long Test series before the World Cup? Some of the regulars of World Cup (like Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Suresh Raina) will be warming the bench for the Test while some of the Test specialists (like Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay) will be going back home during the World Cup. Certainly not the best possible preparation.
  • Barring West Indies and Australia no other nation have successfully retained any ICC tournament.
  • India’s potential WC squad of 15 will have only four members from the 2011 team — Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Raina and Ashwin. The thinktank and core team will be entirely different.
  • Whenever India has won a World Cup it has been under a new captain.
  • The previous edition had turned out to be very different from other World Cups, if we compare it to previous three to four editions. India were in a phase where Tendulkar was the pivot. That changed in 2011, with Yuvraj, Gambhir, Sehwag, Kohli and Dhoni coming good with the bat. But what about 2015? Can India look beyond Kohli and Dhoni?

Having said that, the fans hope that India will break all odds and become the second team after Australia to win the World Cup thrice.

(Sayantan Sen is in IT industry, a cricketer himself during his younger days and a cricket lover who is always awed by the fast changing dynamics of this game)