September 21, 2009

Let me confess that 24 hours before the start of the Champions Trophy, I am caught between emotion and reality. As someone from a nation that has won the ICC World T20 , I yearn for one more crown for a nation that needs to establish itself in world cricket. But then, modern day cricket is not about dreams and emotions. And 50-overs cricket is definitely not going to be “Luck By Chance.”

Let me advise Indian fans not to read much into Sunday’s 103-run defeat against New Zealand in the warm-up game at Potchefstroom. Fresh from their tri-series triumph in Sri Lanka, India will surely be the team to beat in the Champions Trophy.

Coming off a two-month break, the Indian players did show signs of stiffness in the three matches that they played in Colombo but in the end, it’s the win that matters. Dhoni’s team will surely take this momentum forward and Pakistan better watch out on September 26.

Unfortunately, only two from India, Pakistan, Australia and West Indies will make the last-four. So a good start is something all teams will look for. While both Pakistan and Australia will have relatively easy starts against a depleted West Indian team, India must summon their best against Pakistan, where almost always, mind prevails over matter.
It all depends on how well the teams handle the conditions. The wicket in Pretoria will suit India and Pakistan but it is the bouncy Wanderers wicket that the sub-continent giants will have to be careful about. Australia, of course, will be the favourites from Group A, but I give India the edge as the second team to qualify for Round 2 (semis).

Quite a few factors influence my decision to back India as one of the semifinalists. Tendulkar’s form and focus, Dravid’s grit and solidity up the order are terrific signs. Additionally, they are not new to South African conditions. Tendulkar will have to play the leading role in the absence of Sehwag. And after watching his glorious 138 against Sri Lanka at Premadasa, I can safely say, the opening is in good hands. Of course, Gambhir, if fit, will also have to live up to his reputation.

India’s batting will be key. It has the depth and variety. It has wisdom down to No. 10 and Jack. A good score will only spur the bowlers, a department that has to be disciplined from the very first ball. Nehra, RP and Ishant must consistently bowl in the right areas. I have read reports saying Ishant is practising bowling short-pitched deliveries. But he must be careful and identify the batsmen he is going to hurl these.

Dhoni will surely look up to Harbhajan for deliverance. In Lanka, Dhoni used Bhajji well and bouncy South African wickets will definitely assist the wily off-spinner. The five-wicket haul against Lanka would have done a world of good to Bhajji and if he can keep his cool and strike the right line and length, he will be a difficult customer.

Fielding will be an area of concern for sure. Robin Singh must have been working over time on this after at least three sitters were grassed during crucial times in the triseries final last week. But India does have good fielders and they will not only latch on to the catches and save some runs too.

We are all set for two weeks of fascinating cricket. Don’t read much into the ranking system for figures don’t matter when an India play Pakistan or South Africa cross swords with Sri Lanka. May the best team win.

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