Every team has its key players, those who play critical roles at key moments of a contest. These are players in whom the captain has utmost trust, the belief that they can deliver when the going gets tough, and extricate the team from trouble. These players are high in skill and big in temperament, and usually rich in experience. And they also have the Midas touch which gives them an edge over lesser mortals. This makes them invaluable to the team and a favourite of the captain.
So who are these key players India will be relying on at the 2019 World Cup, which promises to be as cut-throat as we have ever witnessed? Since the competition is likely to be fierce, these men will be often called upon to extricate the team from difficult situations. Let’s look at what the Indian roster offers:
The pre-eminent One-day batsman, Virat Kohli will obviously be the man India will be depending on more than anyone else when chasing a total. No total looks impossible when the master of the chase is at the crease. He carries immense skill, fitness, experience and self-belief to the middle and also a metronomic understanding of the dynamics of a chase. The precision with which he goes about the job of chipping away at a target before finally dismantling it is a gratifying experience. Most batsmen feel the pressure while chasing, especially if it’s a big target. It can stymie their game and force them to commit mistakes. Kohli is immune to this pressure - he, in fact, thrives on it and even puts the fielding side under stress, such is his impact and his prowess. His numbers while chasing in ODIs are nothing but phenomenal: 6,617 runs in 133 matches at an average of 68.21 and a strike rate of 94.43. He has 25 centuries while batting second, 21 of which have resulted in wins for India.
Often, a team batting first is unsure about what will be a good total on a particular surface. The batsmen vacillate, fail to change gears in time and the team ends up shortchanging itself. Rohit Sharma, when on song, takes care of this problem in a way only he can. The Mumbai batsman revels in piling up the “daddy hundreds,” having mastered the art of building an innings and spacing it out for high yield. He can effortlessly switch gears from slow to brisk to fast to hypersonic, leaving the opponents dazed and not even knowing what hit them. Rohit is the only batsman to have cracked three ODI double tons, all of which have come batting first. Needless to add, they led India to big wins. It’s not that Rohit has unimpressive second-innings numbers – he is excellent even while chasing. But his best have mostly come when he has taken guard right after the toss. Thus, when it’s about setting up a target while batting first at the World Cup, a target which Indian bowlers can defend on batting-friendly tracks, then this regal batsman has to put his hands up. If Rohit’s bat talks, India will roar.
MS Dhoni has always been a master finisher in ODIs, and an adept tactician when it came to limited-overs cricket. With time, he has also become the elder statesman of the Indian team, the sage-like big brother for many rookies who come from across the country with big dreams but fluttering hearts. It’s hardly a surprise that he is to Virat Kohli what Chanakya was to Chandragupt Maurya. Ever since Kohli took over the mantle of limited-overs captaincy from Dhoni, the icon from Ranchi has been his biggest support system on the pitch. It’s not going to be any different at the World Cup – Kohli, and India, will be looking to Dhoni to provide the tactical boost. Besides, Dhoni remains the coolest one when it comes to chasing a target and finishing a game. In a World Cup humdinger, who would you want to bat for you at the business end of it? Dhoni, of course.
Feted as the ‘world’s best bower’ at present by many experts, bowler Jasprit Bumrah is truly a jewel in India’s crown. Bumrah has the potency and self-belief to answer the call of duty whenever India might need him at the World Cup. Pitches in England are expected to be very flat and full of runs. The bowlers are likely to suffer. But Bumrah is one of those outstanding bowlers who take the track out of the equation. Besides restricting the run flow, he will also be expected to provide breakthroughs whenever he has the white ball in his hands. If a partnership threatens to take the game away, Kohli is likely to turn to Bumrah to break it. Bumrah is a master of bowling at the death and if the power hitters are making merry at the slog stage, it’s Bumrah again who will have to unleash his dreaded yorkers to stem the tide.
Players told to rest and relax
It is learnt that the selected players have been told to take rest and relax before they assemble on May 21 in Mumbai for the flight to London on May 22. “The players have been told that they can take a break from training after the IPL. “The support staff of the Indian team initiated this move. There were talks of having a short camp before the team leaves. But it will be very unfair on the players to get into the grind immediately after a grueling tournament like the IPL. So, it was decided that the players rather go on a break, ideally a short vacation, so that they feel good about themselves. We can’t risk any burnout,” a source said.
While the Indian players were relaxing, most teams were playing international matches or holding camps. England and Pakistan are currently playing a bilateral ODI series while Bangladesh and West Indies are playing a ODI triseries with Ireland in Ireland to get accustomed to the conditions in UK. Even Australia and New Zealand played a few friendly matches earlier this month to get their teams together and get used to the 50-over format. South Africa’s camp at home began in early May while Afghanistan are holding a camp in South Africa.
All of India’s options became tough to implement with the IPL being held so close to the World Cup. Even the much talked-about fitness test (yo-yo) will not be conducted. “Holding a fitness test after 10 days of IPL doesn’t make sense. It is basically an endurance test. You have to be fresh to take the test. That’s why it generally happens at the start of a season or after a long break. IPL takes a lot out of your body with the frequent travel and games in such hot conditions,” the source said.