Mohammed Shami
India’s Mohammed Shami (second left) celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of Sri Lanka’s Charith Asalanka during the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup match at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, India, on November 2, 2023. India won by 302 run, after Sri Lanka were all out for 55. Image Credit: AFP

I’m worried. Really worried. More so after India’s rollicking win over Sri Lanka. Why? It’s too good to be true. I admit Sri Lanka are no longer the Lions they used to be, and their bite is worse than their roar. Even then, a 302-run win is difficult to fathom. That too in the Cricket World Cup.

You could say the win reflects India’s status as favourites. Their batting and bowling have clicked into top gear, which is why they have remained unbeaten in seven games. I know that, and I’m excited about India waltzing into the semifinals.

That exactly is my cause for worry. A win streak often masks inherent weaknesses. I believe robust challenges are required to gird the team for critical encounters ahead. And that hasn’t happened.

How India overcame some scares 

The Australians gave India a fright. Three wickets were down for two runs before Virat Kohli and KL Rahul staged the rescue act. New Zealand’s batting threatened for a while before India tamed them. England’s bowling gave a scare before their batting crumbled. These matches had put the Indian batting and bowling to test, and they came out in flying colours.

So why should India worry? The Indian team doesn’t worry, but I do. I’ve reason to worry.

The dreaded law of averages

My logic is simple: a team can’t win all matches in a World Cup. Why can’t they? Yes, they can, but that’s a rarity. The law of averages is a reality. There has to be a banana skin somewhere. No, I’m not a pessimist. A dip in form or a bad match happens to the best of teams. That’s the nature of sport.

If that loss is in the semifinals or the final, India’s World Cup dreams will go up in smoke. That’s why I’m worried.

Look back at the 2019 World Cup in England; you’ll know what I mean. India were among the favourites and won the earlier matches with ease. Rohit Sharma scored a record four centuries. I believed India could replicate Lord’s 1983.

I was wrong. England handed a drubbing in the league match, and India never recovered sufficiently. In the semifinals, New Zealand dashed India’s hopes. There’s a lesson in it: hot streaks are hazardous to title ambitions, and a path paved with well-fought wins in the league will steel the team for knockout phase battles.

Do you get me now?

You could argue this is a different team, and these are a bunch forged in the cauldron of the Indian Premier League, replete with nailbiting thrillers and white-knuckle rides. That’s true, but each game is different. It starts from scratch and charts its own path. So that comparison may not be entirely correct.

Yet I take comfort from India’s authoritative wins in the robin round. That’s because each player has contributed well in more than one game. Particularly when the chips are down. Or when India faced an uphill task.

Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli have been very consistent. But Shubman Gill, KL Rahul, and Shreyas Iyer excelled when the situation demanded. Hardik Pandya didn’t get many chances with the bat due to an injury, but his bowling had looked good.

Jasprit Bumrah has been phenomenal; he never looked like a bowler who returned from injury. Mohammed Siraj has been patchy with the new ball but was unplayable against Sri Lanka. And he has repeatedly picked wickets in the middle overs.

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Mohammed Shami has been bowling with a vengeance at not being picked for the earlier games. And Kuldeep Yadav is a matchwinner in his new avatar, while Ravindra Jadeja remains a constant threat.

To use a cliché, India have been performing like a well-oiled machine. They have shown the capability to surmount crises, and that gives plenty of hope.

The South Africa game on Sunday is a speed bump. Crunch games loom in the last-four phase. I’m worried. My fingers are crossed.