Out of the comfort zone of playing in Australia for more than four months now, India take the field in New Zealand against Ireland on Tuesday. Having already qualified for the quarter finals, the pressure is obviously much lower on the team, yet there are some challenges to square up to.
Winning the match is paramount, of course. The worry expressed in some quarters that India may have peaked too early is specious. Players take the field to win, not fear whether they are winning too frequently and easily!
If anything, being on a roller-coaster ride, with wild ups and downs, can be grossly disorienting. Ask the South Africans, Pakistanis and West Indians. These teams are still struggling to find rhythm and momentum.
To believe that a loss here or there will build up fresh resolve is puerile logic if not downright absurd.
An old truism in sport is that winning and losing can both become habits. I would rather that India are doing the former than the latter. To believe that a loss here or there will build up fresh resolve is puerile logic if not downright absurd.
The test of ability is in every match, and if India are looking to gather more steam and ambition, they can't do better than winning their remaining two matches against Ireland (Tuesday) and Zimbabwe on Saturday next.
Both these teams have acquitted themselves rather well in this World Cup. Zimbabwe, unfortunately, squandered some opportunities to win matches and are out of the hunt for a place in the semis. But they can push India.
Ireland, however, have been the big story of the tournament with their doughty performances right from the first match when they upset West Indies. While they may lack stars, the Irish team is flush with `bravehearts' who refuse to give up. Their win over Zimbabwe the other was nothing short of sensational.
Apart from winning, what is it that India expect from these games? There are a couple of players under scrutiny, namely Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja, who need to improve their form certainly to consolidate the team's strength.
Rohit has a half century to his credit, but against lowly UAE. Against better teams like Pakistan, South Africa and the West Indies he has flopped. In four matches, he aggregates a paltry 79. The worry is that he was dismissed after spending some time in the middle and getting his eye in, revealing serious lapse in concentration.
Nobody doubts his skill. You can't score two double hundreds without having a wide range of strokes as well as the ability to play a long innings. He has loads of experience in ODIs too. But Rohit's on-off performances make his temperament suspect. This not only mars his reputation, but also keeps the dressing room on edge.
The bigger concern, however, is the undistinguished performances of Jadeja, which came in for some admonishment from Mahendra Singh Dhoni after the match against the West Indies. The Indian captain rarely, if ever, criticises a teammate so his concern is evident.
It is well-founded too. In three innings yet, Jadeja has scored a measly 18 runs. He has also bowled in four matches, and while he has picked up 6 wickets, his economy rate (4.51) is the highest from the main Indian bowlers. These figures hardly do him credit as an all-rounder.
True, Jadeja bats at number 7 and has limited opportunities, but Dhoni is right in wanting more substantial contributions from a player with no mean ability, what with three triple centuries in first class cricket to his credit.
Dhoni would prefer keeping the winning combination intact: unless, of course, these two players don't help themselves and force his hand
What Dhoni was highlighting, if not said in as many words, was that the Jadeja is only short-selling himself and the team if he throws his wicket away instead of providing a meaningful thrust towards the end of the innings - as indeed, if he fails to bottle up opposing batsmen in the middle overs.
Both Rohit and Jadeja are integral to India's game-plan in the defence of the title. I don't think that the strategy going ahead involves any changes in the side - even in the two matches in New Zealand. Dhoni would prefer keeping the winning combination intact: unless, of course, these two players don't help themselves and force his hand.Suggest a correction