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India all set for World Cup challenge after defeating Aussies 2-1

"Everyone has the fire, but champions know when to ignite the spark.” This quote by author Amit Ray is extremely relevant for Team India as they head to the World Cup as worthy contenders. After winning the Asia Cup comprehensively, India beat the Aussie team quite convincingly and emerged victors 2-1 in the recently concluded ODI series.

Significantly, the feat was achieved without some of the stalwarts figuring in the team for the first two games! Though Australians too lacked a few of their superstars, it was a dominant show by India in the first 2 matches – a display that reassured fans about their chances to lift the upcoming World Cup.

The India-Australia series was a vital preparation for the two teams as they will open their World Cup campaign against each other on 8th October in Chennai. With three matches squeezed in just six days, it was a challenge for both teams to balance game time and rest for players. While India rested Rohit, Virat, Hardik and Kuldeep in the first 2 matches, the Aussies were without the services of Glenn Maxwell and Mitchell Starc. Obviously, the absence of the stalwarts gave both the sides a great opportunity to test their bench strength.

Rohit and Hardik’s absence meant that captaincy duties were handed over to K. L. Rahul. India started brilliantly in the first match, stifling the Aussie top order but couldn’t prevent their middle order posting a par score on a batting friendly Mohali pitch. Bumrah was disciplined in his full quota of 10 overs, something he couldn’t do returning from injury owing to India’s dominant display in Asia Cup. But the limelight was stolen by Shami as he picked up a 5-wicket haul in the match and dismissed the Aussie lower order threatening to post an imposing total.

Mohammad Shami’s aggressive bowling in the first match ensured selection headaches for the team management. It was as if he was saying to everyone- “if Siraj can, so can I!” Now, the Indian team management have a ‘happy’ problem over the selection of Bumrah’ s opening bowl partner.

But the best part of the series was the return of Ravi Ashwin to the Indian line up. With Axar Patel injured, Aswin and Washington Sundar were selected to test them ahead of the World Cup if, in case, Axar wasn’t going to be fit in time. Playing the first two matches, Ashwin bagged 4 wickets and while he did bowl economically in the first match but had just 1 wicket to show for his efforts, Ashwin scalped 3 wickets with an economy rate under 6 in the second match. This when all other bowlers went for 7 or 8 runs per over, hence it was certain that he would be part of the World Cup squad. Axar’s thigh injury may well turn out a blessing in disguise for Team India since their spin attack lacked variety and Aswin’s presence brings in much needed experience as well as batting ability at the lower end.

Not just the bowlers are in fine form but also the Indian batters who performed brilliantly in the series. Shreyas Iyer gave a testament of his fitness and form in the second ODI where he hit a fine ton. Alongside, Suryakumar too used the exposure to calm the nerves around his form in the ODIs. His crucial unbeaten fifty in the first match where India chased down 277 as well as Shubman Gill’s continuous good form and another century in the second match augurs well. In the third ODI, when Rohit and Kohli were back and hit crucial fifties, India may have faltered in chasing a mammoth 353 to win but Australia’s consolation win won’t give any sleepless nights to Indians as most of their bases were well covered in the series.

One department, however, remains a slight worry and it is India’s fielding. There were a few missed opportunities and the ground fielding remained below international standard. In contrast, Aussies may have been lacklustre with bat and ball but their fielding was top notch and they displayed their ‘A’ game in the final match.

India can take lessons from their loss in the final ODI especially as they were put under pressure in the game. This has been Achilles heel in previous World Cups too wherein the team crumbled under pressure. Though India lacks nothing in terms of skills, it would be best if they could just absorb the expectations of the home crowd. Hope Team India reveals to all that they are not just the champions of Asia but also the world!.

THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR ARE PERSONAL

Siddhaarth Mahan The writer is a specialist on Sports and Cinema who works as an actor in the Hindi film industry

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