Virat Kohli
India’s Virat Kohli (right) celebrates with Shubman Gill (left) and captain Rohit Sharma after taking the wicket of Netherlands’ captain Scott Edwards during the 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup match at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on November 12, 2023. India won to extend their win streak to nine matches. They will meet New Zealand in the semifinals on November 15, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Invincible India! It has a nice ring to it. I want it to be true. Last week, I wrote about my worries that India’s unbeaten run may end in grief in the knockout phase of the Cricket World Cup. Since then, many have reassured me, saying that my concern may be misplaced.

Perhaps the best endorsement of India’s invincibility came from King Viv. Yes, the king before King Kohli. The West Indian star of yesteryears said India can win the World Cup without losing a match. He should know, having been an integral part of Clive Lloyd’s Invincibles in the eighties and early nineties.

“I believe they [India] can go all the way unbeaten, which is really something to strive for,” Richards said in a column for the International Cricket Council (ICC). “India have a mindset that they can go all the way playing like this. That absolutely should be their mindset and would be mine if I was in that dressing room — let’s go out with all guns blazing. That approach has worked so far, and if that changes, things may go astray,” he added.

The West Indies example

I trust Vivian Richards. He certainly understands the mindset of teams in fiercely contested tournaments. Moreover, he played a key role in West Indies’ World Cup triumphs of 1975 and 1979. Remember his three runouts against Australia that tilted the 1975 final? Four years later, Richards struck a matchwinning century against England after the Collis King blitzkrieg. In both the editions, the Caribbean side didn’t lose a match.

The West Indies are not the only undefeated team to win the World Cup. Australia and Sri Lanka too are proud holders of that record. Only the West Indies and Australia (2003 and 2007) have done it twice, while Sri Lanka’s clean slate in 1996 included walkovers from Australia and the West Indies, who refused to play in the strife-torn island nation. But that takes nothing away from Sri Lanka’s finest hour in cricket.

If the World Cup has been won by unbeaten teams five times in 12 editions since 1975, what prevents India from emulating them? It’s possible. Maybe I worry too much. Let the law of averages be damned. It doesn’t befit the mindset of winners.

One reader drew my attention to tennis, saying that a player has to win all the matches to claim the title. Yes, he’s right. A tennis player has to win seven rounds in a row to bag a Grand Slam title. Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Steffi Graf, Pete Sampras, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Rod Bjorn Borg, Laver and all other major winners have done that multiple times.

As an Arsenal supporter, I also take heart from the Invincibles’ 38-match unbeaten streak in the 2003-04 English Premier League season. The North Londoners, coached by Arsene Wenger, won 26 games and drew 12. That was phenomenal.

Maybe the tennis stars and Arsenal weren’t aware of the dreaded law of averages. They kept winning. Never mind the Gunners’ drawn games. What matters is that they didn’t lose.

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If Arsenal and tennis stars can, India too can. The task before Rohit Sharma’s team is much less strenuous: they just have to win two more matches. They have won nine games straight, and two more shouldn’t be difficult.

Easier said than done. Unlike league games, the knockout matches are shootouts: winners take all. Slip-ups can be costly. There are no second chances. This Indian team have plenty of steel: they don’t buckle easily. At least that’s what they have shown us in this tournament. Hope that continues.

A billion will be watching with bated breath. No pressure.

Invincible India! That could be a reality.