Not that long ago Virat Kohli hit Haris Rauf for two consecutive sixes at the MCG, with India needing 28 of 8. The two sixes united India, the one that thought that Indian cricket was down to shambles and the other that still believed in it. That win against Pakistan in a must-win World Cup game was arguably one of the highest points in Indian cricket history. The World Cup, however, did not go as well for India as one would think, They went on to be thrashed by England in the semifinals, with rather ease (and some nonchalance). Not that the pressure on the team for an ICC title was already at its peak, that very loss piled up even more building up to the 2023 ODI World Cup – cricket’s most coveted title.
We all know the result when India hosted the World Cup last time around. MS Dhoni leading India to a World Cup and finishing it (‘in style’) with a six has been a memory to treasure and cherish by many. MS also went on to take India to an ICC Champions Trophy title a couple of years later. But not a lot has happened to Indian cricket post that. In the 9 ICC tournaments played India has bowed out of the group stage only once (T20WC 2021), reached the semi-finals 4 times (WC 2015, T20 WC 2016, WC 2019, T20 WC 2022), and lost the finals on the other 4 occasions (T20 WC 2014, CT 2017, WTC 2021, WTC 2023) – more than the opposition, each time losing out to pressure, the burden of expectations, themselves. Hearts still sink in every time the 2019 MSD run-out is played on television.
Two months to the World Cup and the Indian team still was figuring out answers to questions in the middle order, a combination to allow the batting line-up to be extended, and the balance to win and succeed in any conditions/situations. However, the team seemed to have come together during the Asia Cup and the consequent series against Australia. The return of KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer put the spine of the middle order back up, and the consistency from Kohli, Gill, and Rohit at the top peaked at its recent best. Moreover, the coming back of Bumrah in the bowling department just about added the missing flair to the attack. With Siraj, Hardik, Shami, and Kuldeep all in sound rhythm, the recent addition of R Ashwin adds a new dimension to Indian bowling.
No surprise the Indian cricket team is back to being favorites to win the World Cup. But the hosts will face some stern opposition from England, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand among others. Each of the four teams has had decent competitive practice in these last few months, with some high scores made, some low totals defended and importantly, some important issues resolved. England and Australia, have both looked settled and have been fairly consistent with their performances. South Africa coming back from 0-2 down to win the series 3-2 at home against Australia might suggest the team’s peak from these past few years. New Zealand have also had a good couple of series under their belt against England and Bangladesh. Pakistan on the other hand has found it difficult to keep sanity in the dressing room but is still the No.2 side in the ICC ODI rankings. The team has more than a little to prove, and their coming into the tournament all guns blazing would not be a surprise.
Others at the World Cup – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Netherlands might be classified as lesser teams for various reasons, but they too have some cricket to showcase. While the formers have been on an upward rise through these last two years securing the direct qualification, the latter found themselves on an opposite spectrum of success in the ICC World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe, earlier this year.
The World Cup 2023 will be played across 10 venues, 45 days, and 48 games. From 2019, the World Cup sees teams play once each against each other before the knockouts and is arguably, one of the most enjoyable formats ever. The diversity in the grounds, conditions, weather, and outfield will add some real spice to the competition. It will be interesting to see the kind of surface that is prepared, especially for Team India matches.
Each and every iteration of the tournament, since the first in 1975, has written its own story – debacle for a few, and fairy tales for others – this one too, if anything, guarantees the same. The ICC ODI World Cup 2023 is just around the corner, and the purest cricketing joys will find many homes.