If defending champions India have to be favourites to retain the ICC Cricket World Cup, which is only a fortnight away, they will have to quickly regroup and perform exceptionally well, more so after their dismal series performance in Australia.
After 23 years, the mega quadrennial event returns to the Antipodes, and India, who won the 2011 edition at home, seem to be on a shaky wicket after failing to win any of their four games in the tri-series that ended for them Friday, two each against Australia and England.
Certainly, this is not the kind of preparation Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his team looked forward to when they embarked on their tour to Australia. To add their woes, some of their key players are nursing injuries.
For the statistically minded, this is the first World Cup Sachin Tendulkar will not be playing since he made his debut in the extravaganza in 1992.
Tendulkar’s record is a World Cup story in itself. He has the most runs (2,278) in the tournament, most hundreds (six), most fifty plus scores (21) and most runs in a single edition (673 runs in 2002-03).
On the flat, dry tracks of the subcontinent, India were unbeatable in 2011 but on the bouncy, seaming tracks in Australia and New Zealand they will have to make huge technical adjustments if they have to do well. Going by their showing in the Tests and the One-Day Internationals (ODI), there are serious doubts about their capabilities.
Of the 82 ODIs India have played in Australia, they won 31, lost 44, tied two and in four there was no result.
Eight of India’s wins in Australia have come against Asian teams, four each against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. They also won all their four matches against Zimbabwe.
But results against other top teams present a sorry picture. Against hosts Australia, India have played 42 matches, of which they have lost 30, won just 10 and no result in two matches.
In four matches played against the English, India have won just one and lost three while against New Zealand six wins and five losses. Against the West Indies, India have won two and lost one, and lost the sole match against South Africa.
India’s record in New Zealand is worse. In 40 matches played they have won just 12 and lost 25, tied one and in two there was no result.
India last won an ODI in New Zealand back in 2009 and in the last series (2014) they lost four of the five matches, tying one.
India, though, will take heart from the fact that would have spent more than two and a half months in Australia before the World Cup starts and would have a head start compared to some of the other teams in terms of acclimatisation.
India will also be hopeful that fresh faces in both the bowling and batting departments will change the team’s fortunes around.
It was a team from the Asian subcontinent, Pakistan, that won the first World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, and Indian fans will hope their team can replicate the performance of their neighbours.
Australia, who have won the World Cup a record four times, will be the odds on favourites to win the trophy for the fifth-time.
Australia won all their group matches in the tri-series and look good to win the tournament.
But the hosts will have to remember what happened to them the last time the tournament was held here.
They had the worst possible start, losing their first two matches. They then recovered somewhat to win four of the remaining six, but narrowly missed out on the semifinals.
Co-hosts New Zealand reached the semi-finals in 1992, and for much of the match against Pakistan were in the driver’s seat for a place in the final.
But an Inzamam-ul-Haq special thwarted the Kiwis and took Pakistan to the final where they beat England to win their only World Cup.
South Africa will be another team that will have their eyes keenly fixed on the trophy. For the African country, it has always been a case of ‘the bridesmaid, never the bride’.
South Africa have come close to winning the cup more than once, but have choked when it came to clinching the big games.
However, led by the ever-talented AB de Villiers and backed by the likes of Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn, the South Africans are one of the top contenders what with the conditions so conducive for their brand of cricket.
Sri Lanka and Pakistan are not to be ignored either.
Runners-up in the last two editions and champions in 1996 in Lahore, beating Australia, Sri Lanka are as good to win it a second time.Only a brave man will count them out.
Pakistan could also fancy their chances if only they can overcome their inconsistency.
Following are the two pools in the World Cup:
Pool A: Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, England, New Zealand, Scotland, Sri Lanka.
Pool B: India, Ireland, Pakistan, South Africa, United Arab Emirates (UAE), West Indies, Zimbabwe.