India players discuss a strategy during a match. AFP
Mohammad Abdullah, Staff Reporter
The way India dominated both their toughest opponents South Africa and defending champions Australia, surely they have emerged as the strongest contenders for the World Cup.
The Indians outclassed Aussies in every department of the game, never once looking troubled against the mighty Kangaroos.
All the Indian players seem to have perfectly executed their game plan. While openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma gave the team a solid foundation, Virat Kohli anchored the innings with a watchful 80, and MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya spurred the run rate with quick-fire knocks.
The bowlers too did their job as they chipped away with wickets and did not let Australian batsmen pose any serious threat at any point of time during the chase. But the question is, are the Indian players peaking too early or the best is yet to come?
For those superstitious followers of the game, when everything dishes out perfectly, an ominous feeling sinks in that something inauspicious might be in store. After the two convincing victories against the two strongest sides at the World Cup, India should be wary of two things – complacency and burnout.
It is often seen in the big tournaments some teams kick off their campaigns very effectively and then by the time it reaches the climax, they run out of steam and eventually fizzle out.
The teams which start peaking at a later phase of the tournament, carry the momentum till the end. And the two most important reasons for failing to keep the momentum going are burnout and complacency, with injuries being the third culprit.
For India, both their openers Dhawan and Rohit have hit centuries; Kohli and Dhoni have also been among runs. Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshear Kumar and Chahal have been impressive in bowling, with all three of them reaching a tally of five wickets each from two matches.
If one or two players are clicking in one match, someone else is due to play a big innings or take a big haul of wickets in the next game, which bodes well for the team’s balance. When the whole team are clicking together the probability of failing together becomes higher. It is very common in sports, sometimes the whole team fail to perform in a very important match that seals their fate.
I can vividly recall the same thing had happened with India in the 1996 World Cup.
Until the semi-finals against Sri Lanka in Kolkata, the Indian team were in great form and were the top contenders for the title. After a dismal batting performance by the whole team, except Sachin in the semis, the match was abandoned due to crowd intervention and Lanka got a walk-over to the final.
All the good work done throughout the tournament was undone when it mattered the most.
Contrary to it, Pakistan got off their 1992 World Cup campaign on a disastrous note and then found the momentum, which they carried through to the final to emerge champions.
So the best way to save the players from a burnout is to try the bench strength and give rest to key players in low-profile games.
India still have to play seven more matches before the tournament goes into the knock-out stage.
They have just two tough matches against England and West Indies. The others should be lopsided affairs barring an upset. So India should give rest to their key players to safeguard them.
It is the best time to give some match practice to Dinesh Kartik, Mohammad Shami and Vijay Shankar before some one gets injured and one of these guys have to force their way into the team without any prior practice.
India's hopes have already been jolted as Dhawan has been ruled out for three weeks due to a thumb injury.
The other factor that can derail India's campaign and stop its juggernaut is complacency. If complacency sets in, it will be lethal for the men in blue.
The mighty but complacent West Indies led by the great Sir Clive Lloyd failed to chase a paltry total against India in the 1983 World Cup final and the rest is history.
They've not been able to emulate the success of the first two editions as the World Cup triumph has eluded them since.
India should follow the thumb rule of good, better best never be at rest till your good is better and your better is best.
Australia and India will be aiming to finish top of the World Cup league phase and so avoid facing hosts England in the semi-finals as they prepare for the final day of round-robin matches.
It was a superb display by the underdog Black Caps, who came into the match on the back of three straight defeats by Pakistan, Australia and England and only qualified for the semi-finals on net run-rate, while India topped the 10-team group stage.
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