We as Indians, are very accepting of politicians involved in multi-crore scams, and more often than not, turn a blind eye towards it, accepting it as a way of life. But we feel cheated when something of the nature of spot-fixing and betting rears its ugly head. The simple reason for this is because we hold our cricketers in very high esteem and so we are hurt when these very people let us down. As opposed to politicians, cricketers are our role models and its tough to accept that our role models could do such a thing.
And so the Indian team is likely to feel the burden of whats happening back in India. And its natural for them to want to give their countrymen and women something to cheer about by putting in a massive effort towards bringing the ICC Champions Trophy back with them. Easier said than done, of course. But at the same time, a great motivating thought. It will mean a lot to the players as a team and as individuals too if they play the way we know they are capable of playing.
In the last two warm-up games that India played against Sri Lanka and Australia, they seem to be in top form. With the batting winning the game against Sri Lanka and then the bowlers blowing the Aussie batting away in the second. This is sure to be a good confidence boost for a side that has many forgettable things going on back home. The only aspect that the team management will want more out of, will be the openers contribution. Opening the batting in England, even in limited-overs cricket, is greatly different to opening in the subcontinent. Most times its crucial for the openers to see the new ball through as opposed to attacking from the word go on the placid subcontinental pitches.
At the same time, it will also be very important for India not to be overconfident with these results. In games such as these, teams mostly are looking for the perfect combinations to play in the XI when the actual tournament begins. Also players will be focused on achieving specific targets, for example, the openers might have the objective of seeing the new ball through and if this objective is achieved, the focus diminishes and they get out. Something like this wouldn't happen in a tournament. There are also players who are at their best on the big stage and under pressure, and with no real pressure in practice games, they tend to under perform. But MS Dhoni and Co. will be aware of this and it will be their job to make sure that the message reaches every member of the team not to be complacent and take nothing for granted.
With a multitude of foreign players participating in the IPL with and against the very players that make up the Indian team, also means that teams will be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the Indian players pretty intimately. As an opponent, its a great advantage to know beforehand what a certain players response is likely to be, specially under pressure. Things like, does a particular batsman like to attack or be patient when the heat is on? Or, what length a certain bowler prefers to bowl at crucial stages of the game? Just like the IPL is a perfect way to prepare just before a tournament like the Champions Trophy for the Indian players, its also an ideal way for foreign players to get used to the rhythms and flows of how the Indians play. In a tight situation, this can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Looking at the tournament as a whole, New Zealand look to be in awesome form going into the ICC Champions Trophy. With a 2-0 victory (with one match to play) against England in England just before such a prestigious tournament, the Kiwis will have their sights set high. Though England have the home advantage, they are sure to be looking for answers to what went so wrong. Not a very ideal way to go into a tournament. For England, a solid start is what will be required to begin their campaign on the right foot.
Pakistan are a handful in any one day tournament. With the unpredictable but very talented side, no one can take liberties. One can never rule them out at any stage. The same way, Australia also at the moment are unpredictable. One cannot be sure if a great performance isn't around the corner. West Indies are a very dangerous team with clear match winners who can change the course of a game within no time at all. Their main challenge will be to be consistent.
The safest bet at the moment is South Africa because they have the experience and depth needed. Also their fast bowling is taylor made for the pitch conditions they are likely to encounter in England. The only thing that even the South African players will fear is the fact that they have never come out on top in tournaments like the World Cup or the Champions Trophy since 1998. They would be very keen to shake off once and for all, the unfortunate tag of 'chokers'.
The timing of this tournament couldn't be better. Its the ideal opportunity for all of us to get whats happening in India at the moment out of our minds and really enjoy some classic international cricket. May the best team win!
First Published: June 5, 2013, 12:34 PM IST