Comfortably beating West Indies on Thursday, India are all but poised to play the semi finals at the 2019 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup currently underway in England and Wales.
The Men in Blue won by 125 runs in Manchester, maintaining their unbeaten record and with that climbing to the second spot in the group stage. India’s gains, however, meant that the Caribbean campaign ended there.
Hosts England, however, find themselves in a spot with two successive losses. Fault lines have begun to show as the pre-tournament favourites approach Sunday’s match against India—English opener Jonny Bairstow accused critics of wanting them to fail.
England have dominated in 50-over cricket since the last World Cup, beginning this tournament as favourites and the top-ranked team. But after Tuesday’s 64-run defeat to Australia, former England captains Kevin Pietersen and Michael Vaughan criticised the Eoin Morgan-led side; the team now needs to win its two group matches, the second of which is against New Zealand, to guarantee qualification for the semi finals.
South Africa, Afghanistan, and West Indies have already bowed out of the tournament with their latest defeats. South African batsman Rassie van der Dussen told reporters after their ouster, “We’ve underperformed, and we know that.”
Australia have already secured a spot among the final four, while New Zealand have risen steadily up the table to become the dark horse in the tournament.
Sarfaraz Ahmed-led Pakistan also seem to be recovering swiftly, having found a way back into the league with recent wins over South Africa, knocking the Proteas out, and against another unpredictable side, New Zealand.
Ace batsman Babar Azam has already joined stalwarts Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, and AB de Villiers on the table of under-24 players who’ve scored the most runs in the ICC World Cup, with 333 runs to his credit.
The Men in Green who got off to a rocky start suffered an embarrassing 89-run loss to India but made a strong comeback in the tournament and now have seven points in as many games.
They have relatively comfortable league fixtures ahead, against Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and are currently locked in a fierce four-way battle for a semi final spot with England, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.
Curiously, this puts India in a position of power over Pakistan’s subsequent campaign in the World Cup. Pakistani cricketer Basit Ali recently claimed in a televised interview that India may deliberately “play poorly” to lose to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to oust Pakistan from the tournament.
The most talked about topic among cricket fans now is the striking similarities with their 1992 campaign—when Imran Khan’s players lifted their first World Cup trophy after beating England in the final.
Twenty-seven years ago, the side lost to West Indies in their first match, a ‘Sohail’ had lifted the player of the match title in their sixth match against South Africa, and Pakistan had been the one to end New Zealand’s unbeaten campaign among things that saw a repeat this year.
The odds are also increasing in favour of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, in order for them to qualify to the semi final round, provided Lanka wins Friday and Shakib al Hasan-led Bangladesh beat India in a highly-anticipated match next week (July 2).
The Great Kohli
The world has been singing praises of Virat Kohli’s captaincy, rehashed by his teammates and their unbeaten winning streak. “No matter what condition, what wicket condition, who the bowlers are, he always finds a way to get runs, always finds a way to put the bowlers under pressure,” KL Rahul said at a press conference post-match Thursday.
Kohli who scored his 20,000th international run yesterday became the fastest to do so.
Just as Jasprit Bumrah with his yorkers shone in the last but one match against Afghanistan, Mohammed Shami proved the mettle of India’s bowling in the latest clash with West Indies, which was one of the most emphatic wins for India in the series so far.
Kohli even defended Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who scored his first 50 runs on Thursday, saying: “He knows exactly what he wants to do out there in the middle … That’s his strength, to play calculated cricket. He’s a legend of the game, we all know that.”
Meanwhile, Indian politicians have managed to politicise the team jersey. The Opposition vociferously objected to the saffronisation of the men’s cricket team jersey that the players will likely wear for the upcoming match against England.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius