The World Cup is into the second fortnight to decide who the champions will be from the 16 teams that made the knockout round. For the fourth time in the last five championships, the defending champions have knocked out at the group stage.
There will not be any second chance from hereon for the teams. There are six former champions still there entertaining their hopes and it is still wide open after Germany’s exit, failing to beat South Korea, for whom their last group game was inconsequential as they were playing only for their pride. Uruguay, Brazil, England, Argentina, France and Spain can legitimately feel they have a great chance of winning the cup.
If Argentina made it in a last-gasp from not a Lionel Messi goal but one from a perfect Marcos Rojo volley in the 86th minute for a 2-1 victory against Nigeria, don’t forget Messi scored his first World Cup goal but that was neutralised by a goal from the African side.
Brazil quickly got over their opening match blues of a 1-1 draw against Switzerland, the other team to move up from the group. Neymar is looking good after his injury fears.
Spain, England and France quietly moved up, but Uruguay made a splash of their talent and look serious contenders from the Americas.
While the World Cup is still the show to watch, the Indian cricket team made merry in Ireland, winning both their matches by massive margins, the second on by over 100 runs for the first time in their Twenty20 history.
It is not the two victories that mattered, but it is skipper Virat Kohli’s “headache” in picking the playing eleven in England! Captains would not know what to say after steamrollering a weak opposition and they say that they welcome the “headache” of who to pick, qualifying that the batsmen are in form and so are the bowlers.
Exhibiting confidence before a long tour is always good, but to discuss the team composition after beating Ireland is a bit amusing. It is not to belittle the Irish, who had knocked out Pakistan from the competition in their inaugural World Cup in 2007 and in the Super Eight beat another Test playing nation, Bangladesh. They had a great game against Pakistan last month in their first Test match, coming close to winning.
After the first win, Kohli talked of suprising the Opposition with his changes in the middle-order, without touching the openers. But in the second match Lokesh Rahul and Kohli himself opened, Shikhar Dhawan was dropped and in-form Rohit Sharma batted down the order.
Kohli is looking to fill the middle order with Suresh Raina and Rahul with Dhoni and Hardik Pandya following them. The four bowlers will be the two wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav and Yazuvendra Chahal and the two medium-pacers will be Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah. To give rest to the two fast bowlers in a long tour, Kohli may play Umesh Yadav and Siddharth Kaul, as he did in the second game against Ireland.
Don’t forget, England are no Ireland and they look formidable seein the way they hammered Australia 5-0 in the just-concluded One-Day series. Normally beating England in England, or for that matter any team at home, is difficult. In England, the weather also adds to the problems of the visitors.
Before every tour to England, South Africa and Australia in recent years, it is said the Indians have bowlers to use a green top and the batsmen well-equipped to negotiate the movement of the ball. They take time to get acclimatized, but sometimes it is too late like it happened in the Test series in South Africa.
The Indians complained of poor scheduling on recent tours. They wanted to play the limited-overs matches first in South Africa but had to play the Tests and now it is the other way round, by the time the Test series gets underway the team would had enough time to get the feel of pitch and climatic conditions.
It should be an interesting series in all formats as India will be fighting for the No.1 place in the limited-overs rankings. They are second behind England in the ODIs and behind top-ranked Pakistan in the T-20s. In the Tests, they will be out to maintain their top spot. England are fourth in T-20s and fifth in Tests behind New Zealand.
Kohli also stated that no player from the squad would go back home as a tourist, not playing any match. A lofty thought from the captain!
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])