A string of injuries worries India's title defence

A string of injuries worries India's title defence

A string of injuries worries India's title defence

What appeared to be an ideal preparation is instead turning out to be India’s biggest hindrance in their quest to retain the World Cup and become only the second team after Australia to have won the coveted trophy thrice.

After four Tests and four tri-series one-day internationals, India look far from equipped to launch the defence of their world title. While M S Dhoni and company carry no momentum whatsoever going into the quadrennial event, they are not sure about putting up their best 11 on the park when the tournament proper commences.

The two warm-up matches in Adelaide against Australia and Afghanistan will serve them with a final chance to identify their fit players but it’s not an ideal scenario entering an event as important as the World Cup.

One of their main batsmen Rohit Sharma was still not fit when India played their last match against England in Perth on January 30. Ishant Sharma hasn’t bowled in a match since the drawn Melbourne Test over a month ago.

Ravindra Jadeja has recovered but is still rusty while Mohammad Shami, who briefly left the field in the first tri-series ODI against Australia in Sydney with a side niggle, has been bowling non-stop. Umesh Yadav too has bowled enough balls to feel the fatigue.

For India to do well in the World Cup, their bowlers, especially the pacers, have to produce their best. With two new balls, bouncy pitches and a fair knowledge of the conditions by now, they should be in a position to put the rivals’ batting units under pressure but it all depends upon how fit they are.

Shami and Yadav, assuming Ishant continues to carry his dodgy knee, will have to be at their peak fitness and bowling skills because Bhuvneshwar Kumar can be ineffective once the ball becomes old. The week-long break before the World Cup was a welcome one but was it enough for the tired players to reenergise themselves?

It’s not just about the long Australia tour India have had now; one also has to look at the non-stop cricket they have been involved in for over a year now. Their 2014 campaign began with a month-long tour of New Zealand which was followed by the Asia Cup and the World T20 tournament in Bangladesh in quick succession.

The team later travelled to England for a five-Test series after which they played five ODIs and a lone T20I. Before leaving for Australia for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, India had a home series against West Indies. While the series was cut short after payment issues between West Indies players and their board, Sri Lanka were summoned to fill the gap by playing five one-dayers.

It wasn’t surprising, thus, to hear some of the former Indian cricketers say that India not making the tri-series final was a blessing in disguise. Acclimatisation to conditions is of course important but adequate rest is equally crucial.

Almost two months of non-stop cricket can leave the fittest of players drained both mentally and physically and it remains to be seen how well India utilise the break to rejuvenate themselves.    

“With a bit more gap between the ODIs in the World Cup, we will have to use it very wisely,” said Dhoni who didn’t want to risk any of his injured players in the tri-series. “No doubt four-and-a-month tour is a very long tour. Whatever said and done, staying away, we have seen cricketers, within 15 days they feel homesick and they go back to their country.

Four-and-a-half months away from everything, it is tough, but at the same time we have the preparation in mind. We knew this was going to happen, and we are quite good at it. There have not been many cases of Indian cricketers saying we are homesick.

We will have a bit more of team activities, we will have a bit more fun, maybe have paintball with the media people one day, and that will be fun. That’s the kind of thing you have to do on a long tour,” the Indian skipper said on keeping the team fresh.

While fast bowlers are obviously a more vulnerable lot to fatigue, the batsmen too are showing signs of over workload. When you looked at Virat Kohli, who was one of the top performers in Tests from either side, he appeared disinterested during the tri-series, getting out to shots that he otherwise would have sent screaming to the fence in Tests.

There was an element of ennui which is a result of long, tiring schedule. Dhoni advocated the need to totally stay away from cricket and stressed the need to reflect over what happened in the past and what needs to be done going ahead. Hopefully, they will be in the right place both mentally and physically when they lock horns with arch-rivals Pakistan in Adelaide on February 15.

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