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How do you even beat this Indian side?

Last updated on 05 Nov 2023 | 05:27 PM
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How do you even beat this Indian side?

It is truly astonishing how scarily perfect this unit has been

15 years ago, I watched Rafael Nadal absolutely bulldoze his way through to the French Open title (2008), making a mockery of the rest of the field. Nadal won that particular Roland Garros edition without dropping a single set and humiliated his biggest rival and the then world number one, Roger Federer, in the final, 6-1 6-3 6-0. 

Whilst watching this particular Indian side in action in this World Cup, I’m often reminded of that Nadal campaign. 

They seem so far ahead of the rest of the pack that it is ridiculous. They are in a league of their own and, right now, look invincible. 

I’m not saying this just because they’ve won eight in eight. See, starting a World Cup with eight wins is a pretty difficult task but not an impossible one. Back in 2015, for instance, New Zealand won each of the first eight matches they played (knockouts included). 

This campaign from India is bananas because of how dominant they’ve been and how impregnable they’ve looked. 

The clash today against South Africa at Eden was hyped as the unstoppable force (SA) vs the immovable object (IND). Everyone drooled at the prospect of the best batting unit in the competition (SA) taking on the undisputed best bowling line-up in the tournament. On paper, this was supposed to be one of the closest games of the tournament. 

India ended up winning by 243 runs. That’d be the equivalent of a triple-bagel in Tennis or an 8-0 scoreline in Football.

Usually, the best sides would be happy with one such performance in a tournament like the World Cup, but India have already had FIVE of these routs. Three of them have been against sides that were talked about as potential contenders for the title before the tournament began — Pakistan, England and South Africa. 

What truly amazes me about this particular unit is how scarily perfect they are. Or, rather, have been. 

They have an answer for everything. And by everything, I mean EVERYTHING! 

Think of what was said in the lead-up to the World Cup. Think of the little doubts a lot of us had, even though we knew this team entered the competition as favourites.  

There were doubts over this side’s ability to play spin and thrive on slower, drier wickets. That India could ‘suffer’ on turning tracks was a popular opinion prior to the World Cup.

Well, India have played three out of their eight league games on ‘dry’ decks — Australia, England & South Africa — and have steamrolled their opponents in all three. As it stands, India’s batting average of 97 against spin is 46 better than the next best side, New Zealand. 

Speaking of New Zealand, a lot of us feared that the Dharamsala clash was a disaster waiting to happen. Nearly everyone came to the foregone conclusion that Boult & Henry would torment the Indian top-order — under lights or otherwise — at a venue like Dharamsala.

The eventual result? Rohit & Gill scored 63 runs off the bat in the powerplay under lights while preserving their wicket.

One thing everyone unanimously agreed with prior to the World Cup was that India would be ‘doomed’ if they were to lose Hardik Pandya to injury. And it was entirely reasonable to believe so because the balance of the team hinged on Hardik. Losing him would have meant India losing whatever little batting depth they had (with Shardul Thakur coming in at No.8).

It’s been four matches since India have lost Hardik, and they've won three of these matches with a 100+ run margin. I’m actually underselling the wins because they beat Sri Lanka by 302 runs and South Africa today by 243 runs. 

I can guarantee you that many teams would have rejoiced once Hardik picked up that unfortunate injury. They would have felt that the injury would certainly unsettle the Indian team. 

Imagine their horror, then, upon seeing Mohammed Shami walk in and casually pick 16 wickets in four matches at an average of 7.00. 

Halfway through the tournament, a lot of us were already scrambling to find any ‘potential weaknesses’ in this Indian side, and we all came to a rather fair conclusion that this team might potentially ‘struggle’ if it bats first, considering each of the five wins came via chases. 

Well, the joke’s on us now. For they’ve seemed even more invincible while defending a target. At least the opponents had a sniff when India bowled first. Now? Bumrah, Shami & Co. have been finishing games off inside the sixth over of the chase.

I’m just trying to think how anyone could possibly beat this Indian team in these conditions, in front of hostile crowds, in the form they are in.

It’s just almost impossible to picture it. That’s how ridiculously dominant they’ve been.

Without exaggerating, it seems like there is no chink on either front. At least while Pandya was still there, they had relatively ‘weak’ fifth and sixth bowling options (with Shardul being the sixth). Now, with Shami coming in, that door is pretty tightly shut. 

You can say that ‘batting depth’ is an issue, but is it, really? 37 games into the World Cup, there have hardly been one or two matches in which ‘batting depth’ has proven to be pivotal. The worry ahead of the World Cup was that the Indian batters would bat with the handbrakes on if they had Shami at No.8, but clearly, they’ve not done that. 

Somehow, the Indian batters have managed to strike the perfect balance between aggression and wicket conservation, something no other side has managed to do. 

Just to expand on the ‘no weakness’ part, it is insane how both the batting and bowling are equally strong. No weak links, no let-offs.

With the bat, you first have to contend with the most aggressive (and technically sound) version of Rohit ever, alongside a run-machine in Gill. And then comes Kohli, who is enjoying his best World Cup ever. You then have the deceptively good Shreyas Iyer, after which there is KL Rahul, who is the ultimate can-do-it-all batter. A maniacal Suryakumar at No.6, followed by the impenetrable, versatile Jadeja at No.7, how more versatile can it get? 

This is a one-of-a-kind batting line-up that has a frighteningly high ceiling and a ridiculously high floor. Australia had them 2/3 and still ended up losing with 9 overs to spare on a bowler-friendly surface. 

It’s the only batting line-up in this World Cup capable of thriving across conditions: that India have won 8 in 8 having played in eight different venues is a testament to the same. 

You can say the same about the bowling. With Shami now coming in, it is, by some distance, the best in the competition. And the scary part is that the Indian bowlers are even more efficient and lethal than their batting colleagues. 

You have to deal with Bumrah first in his unplayable new-ball avatar, with Siraj operating from the other end. After these two, who is at first change? Oh yes, Shami, the man who has taken 47 World Cup wickets at an average of 12.74, the most for an Indian bowler in the tournament's history. 

Then you have Kuldeep & Jadeja applying their middle-overs chokehold, after which Bumrah appears in his unplayable late-overs avatar. 

It’s the sort of bowling line-up where you’re doomed even if one bowler has an off day. Just ask New Zealand. Kuldeep went for 2/73 off his 10, and they still couldn’t go past the 275-run mark. 

Like I said before, I just can’t see how this team could be toppled right now, all factors considered.

I’m just trying to think from an opponent’s perspective going forward. 

You win the toss, great. Now, do you bat first or bowl first?

Bat first? Fair enough. That is a wise call. Remember, though, this is the best chasing side in the world, and its No.3 is the greatest chase master in the history of the sport. Just look at what happened to Australia and New Zealand.

Bowl first and try and take advantage of the dew? Reasonable ploy, but remember that even if you restrict the Indian batters to a par score, you’ll then have to contend with Bumrah, Siraj & Shami under lights. Thrice they’ve bowled under lights in this World Cup, and in those games, they’ve taken 12 wickets in the powerplay at an average of 6.75. Dew won’t be a factor if you lose all your wickets even before the dew sets in. 

At this point, if you’re a side hoping to win the title, the best you can probably do is hope that nerves get the better of this side in the knockouts, and as a result, there is a massive drop in the performance of the individuals, with more than half the side enduring bad-days. 

But even in such a scenario, I can’t picture this Indian team going down unless the opponent also plays the perfect game. 

Keep an eye out for the luck factor, though. So far in this WC, all the little things have gone India’s way (starting from Kohli’s drop catch in the first game). They could potentially run into trouble if lady luck betrays them in the semis. 

Funnier things have happened in the past, and funny things do tend to happen in the knockout stages of a World Cup. But at this point, you feel that India winning the World Cup is almost inevitable. 

I said how this World Cup campaign of India reminds me of Nadal’s RG 2008 run. It also reminds me of Australia’s title defense in 2007, where the Kangaroos dominated from start to finish.

Both Nadal and Australia went on to be crowned champions. We’ll find out soon enough if India have it in them to hold their nerve and go all the way.

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