World Cup countdown: India eye an encore of 1983

World Cup countdown: India eye an encore of 1983

In the run-up to the World Cup, experts and former players across the world have picked India as one of the favourites to clinch the title. The enormous expectations around India is understandable, considering their wealth of experience and the marauding form they are in.

In the last two seasons (2017-18, 18-19), Virat Kohli's men have won eight bilateral series out of nine. The men-in-blue have emerged champions of Asia Cup and finished second best at the Champions Trophy.

In the 15-member squad, six of them have played the previous edition of the quadrennial event. Apart from the those six, five players were part of the Champions Trophy squad that faltered against Pakistan in the final two years ago. The core group understands the demands of a big event like the World Cup.    

However, the two-time champions shouldn't be blinded by their stupendous record because there are still areas of concern to address. Despite their several attempts, it's surprising that they haven't zeroed in on a specialist No. 4 batsman. It's a top-heavy line-up, with Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli making for an enviable first three.  

In case of an early stutter, the fragile middle-order, with Mahendra Singh Dhoni being the only big name, will face a tough test of holding the innings together. With pitches in England expected to produce scores close to 350, it's up to the lower-order to provide a perfect final dash. 

Dhoni was at his vintage best in IPL-12 but his strike-rate in ODIs, in recent times, shows he is far from the brilliant finisher he once was. Vijay Shankar and Kedar Jadhav will have to shrug off the disappointment of an underwhelming IPL and get into their groove as early as possible. 

In the round-robin format, the first-half will be crucial for India as they square off against big teams. After opening their campaign against South Africa, they will face Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan in that order. In case of a positive start, India would have won a big psychological battle. But a poor first-half will mount the pressure on them and the race to qualify for the knockouts can get tighter.  

The maverick Hardik Pandya offers the right balance to the team and it won't bode well for India if the Baroda all-rounder has a quiet tournament.  

Unlike in previous World Cups, India enjoy the luxury of having a brilliant pace attack this time. The trio of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar is one of the best in the world. From just fine talents, the pacers have matured into a lethal group capable of upstaging any opponent on any surface. The successful wrist-spin duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav can play perfect support to the pace-attack. 

Leading in his first World Cup, Kohli has an impressive set of players at his disposal. It was in England that Kapil Dev-led India stunned the world by beating overwhelming favourites West Indies in the final for their maiden title. Unlike in 1983, Kohli's men start as one of the strong contenders and it remains to be seen if the skipper can marshal his troops well enough to bring home the Cup the third time.