India gear up to flex their muscles

India gear up to flex their muscles
Amidst a reported captain-coach stand-off that is getting unsavoury by the day, India will be looking to justify their favourites’ tag by defending the Champions Trophy that kicks off in London on Thursday.

Ever since Virat Kohli and Anil Kumble joined forces last June, they’ve conquered the West Indies, New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia in probably one of the best seasons an Indian team has ever enjoyed. With many personnel who were instrumental in that sensational run — where India lost just six internationals (Tests, ODIs and T20s combined) in 30 appearances — part of the team in England, India were billed as amongst the favourites to lift the trophy. However, the needless controversy surrounding the supposed tension between Kohli and Kumble has raised questions about the mood and spirit in the team that had appeared like a family until a few weeks back.

From the BCCI inviting applications for the coach’s job just as the team descended in England, to some officials expressing their displeasure over Kumble’s role in the ongoing players’ contract negotiation and reports of Kohli’s unhappiness with the legendary leg-spinner’s ‘overbearing’ presence, the build-up to this major event has not been ideal.

However, judging by the two warm-up games, the Indians seem focused on the job at hand and they would be determined to create history by becoming the first team to win three Champions Trophy crowns. And they have a wonderful set of personnel to achieve it. An established batting line-up containing two dashing openers, a skipper who is one of the finest batsmen of this generation, a battle-hardened veteran who continues to defy critics with his never-say-die attitude, an acclaimed finisher still possessing plenty of fire and a bowling attack containing a heady mix of potent fast bowlers and two top-class spinners makes this side finely balanced. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, who beautifully set-up India’s march to the title in 2013 with two century partnerships and an equal number of half-century partnerships, have combined to become one of the best opening pairs in recent times. While Rohit gave a boost to his career as an opener in the 2013 edition, Dhawan showed his fondness for ICC events by hammering 363 runs, including two centuries.

The aggressive Kohli, a big match player who relishes the big stage, is leading the side for the first time in a major event and he would be determined to embellish it with some silverware.

Question marks were raised when Yuvraj Singh was brought back to the national side in January for the limited-overs series against England. But the Punjabi proved the hunger in him is still raw with a scintillating hundred in the second ODI and following a decent IPL, there's no doubt he’ll be game for this challenge as well. The same can be said of M S Dhoni and his finishing fire.

Coming to the bowling attack, India have looked resourceful and potent. Bhuvneshwar Kumar is a master of swing and control, new kid on the block Jasprit Bumrah has been rising phenomenally with his exceptional death bowling, Umesh Yadav has added accuracy to his feisty pace while Mohammed Shami has the uncanny skill of getting early wickets.

R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja combined brilliantly in the last edition of Champions Trophy, taking 20 wickets in total to take everyone by surprise. Considering they are wiser and smarter now, India can look forward with great hope.

However, there are some concerns as well. Dhawan is returning to the side after being dropped last home season while Rohit, Ashwin and Shami are all coming back from injuries.  How well India counter these minor concerns and the coach-captain tension will decide their fate.

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