India: A Billion Dreams!
Updated: Jun 5, 2019
That’s what happens whenever India takes the field at a World Cup. As unrealistic as it may seem, they are expected to win every single time.
Every night we lie in our beds,
The tri-colour in our heads
A billion dreams is all it’s gonna take
We think of The World Champions we’ll be
It’s no more just a fantasy
A billion dreams is all it’s gonna take
A billion dreams, win the World Cup for our sake.
All right, all right. It’s not the best rendition of the hit number ‘A Million Dreams’ from the Hugh Jackman musical ‘The Greatest Showman’, but you get the gist.
A Billion Dreams! That’s exactly the kind of expectations the Indian team have to contend with every time they take the field at a World Cup. For nothing less than ultimate victory will do for the fanatical Indian fan, in a country where the sport is not just a national obsession but to many it’s considered a religion.
The seeds of this ‘cricket religion’ was sown in almost every Indian’s heart on an English summer’s day back on June 25, 1983, when India against all odds, stunned the cricket world and two-time defending champions The West Indies to emerge World Champions! The Indian Team became national heroes that day and cricket was never viewed in the same manner again. The sport soon replaced hockey as the unofficial national sport of the nation. Cricket became the only sport that had a mass following and every young boy aspired and was encouraged to become a cricketer. Cricket matches began to be televised regularly and any match involving India would bring the nation to a virtual standstill. And where eyeballs go, money follows; soon corporates began lining up to pour huge amounts of funds into the sport. With cash filling the coffers of The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), a new world order was formed in which the traditional powers of the game – The English Cricket Board (ECB) and Cricket Australia. (CA) was superseded by the BCCI. All these events were set in motion on that fateful day, over three and a half decades ago.
India only became a stronger team since their maiden World Cup triumph. They went onto win another major tournament in the shape of The Benson & Hedges World Championship in 1985 and began to become a better Test side as well. They were undoubtedly the best team in the world when they headed into the next world cup in 1987, which they co-hosted along with neighbouring arch-rivals Pakistan. Both hosts were considered the favourites and they both made strong statements all the way to the semi-finals. Unfortunately, England and Graham Gooch had different ideas as the burly opener and The Three Lions literally swept India out of the finals. You could hear a pin drop in the stadium as shell-shocked fans couldn’t believe what had just happened. The entire nation was in mourning after the event and only Australia’s defeat of India’s tormentors released the country from their hangover.
The ’92 tournament in Australia and New Zealand, saw India being dunked out of it in the round robin stages itself. A long and deflating Australian tour preceding the World Cup had left Kapil and his men absolutely drained and defeated even before the competition kicked off. The only highlight for them in the entire tournament was their defeat of Pakistan in their first ever encounter in a world cup.
The ’96 edition marked the tournament’s return to the sub-continent with Sri Lanka being included as the third hosts along with the two Asian Giants. The Lankans though were not there to merely play the younger sibling to big brothers India and Pakistan. They crashed the Indians’ party by first defeating them in the group stage and then later knocking them out of the tournament at the semi-final stage. This was when the world became witness to the dark side of the Indian cricket fan. As their team began hurtling towards defeat in the semi-final, the fans began throwing objects onto the field including bottle and cans. They were disgusted by their team’s abject surrender in such an important match. The match was stopped and awarded to the Lankans as a result of crowd disturbance. Never before had a world cup match been decided on such grounds and the ugly side of cricket fanaticism in India was on full display.
The ’99 tournament, which was staged in England and Wales, had India exit at the Super Six stage, managing to win only 4 out of their 8 matches. They did fight well throughout the tournament though and despite a mediocre tournament, the fans were accepting of their team’s performance.
The 2003 event was staged for the first time in Africa, with South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe co-hosting the tournament. The Indians began the tournament disastrously with a sub-par performance against Holland (India still managed to win), before being annihilated by Australia in their next match. Their poor performances right at the start of the tournament triggered uproar back home and player effigies were burnt and some of their houses were pelted with stones. The situation was so grave that the players’ families were afforded police protection. The ugly Indian fan had reared its head once again. The team back in Africa was stunned by the reaction back home but this seemed to galvanize them. Skipper Sourav Ganguly promised the fans that the team would give it their all in the remainder of the matches and they kept their promise. The Indian team went on a winning spree and snuffed out the challenge of anyone who got in their way. They made it all the way to the finals and the fans believed that the cup would return home after nearly a gap of 20 years. But it was not to be as they were once again stopped by a rampaging Australia. Despite losing the final tamely, the Indians were welcomed home as heroes for their valiant performance during the tournament.
The 2007 tournament in the Caribbean was India’s most disappointing performance at the world event. Infighting and politics saw the team arrive at the event lacking focus and passion. The Ganguly-Chappell feud that had begun in 2005, resulting in Ganguly’s sacking as India captain, had irrefutably damaged team spirit and the negative effects spilled into the world cup. An unfocused India was sent packing out of the tournament in the group stages itself, after a shocking defeat to minnows Bangladesh. This triggered another uproar back home which resulted in the eventual sacking of coach Greg Chappell after India’s exit. It was some consolation for the billion plus broken hearts.
For the 2011 event, the tournament returned to the sub-continent (India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh co-hosting) for a third time and this time India were the overwhelming favourites with only South Africa considered a threat. The Indian team was on a mission to win the cup for their legendary batsman Sachin Tendulkar, who was playing in his last World Cup. The master batsman himself set the tempo scoring 2 centuries in the group stages, against England and mighty South Africa. On the back of Man-of-the Tournament Yuvraj Singh’s superlative performances with both bat and ball, The Men In Blue lifted the trophy after a 28-year long wait, defeating Sri Lanka in the final. The victory send the nation into wild raptures and a month long celebration. The prayers of their innumerable fans had been answered – India were once again World Champions!
India entered the 2015 event in Australia and New Zealand as the defending champions and despite a long and exhausting tour Down Under, just before the tournament, India hit the ground running. They routed old enemy Pakistan and then South Africa in their opening matches and went onto establish an unbeaten record all the way to the semi-final. However their tournament ended there at the hands of eventual champions Australia, going down by 95 runs. The fans could not complain though as their team had put up a stellar show in defence of their title and one defeat wasn’t going to rub the sheen off an otherwise fabulous campaign.
As The Men In Blue enter the 2019 edition, in England and Wales, the expectations from their fans will once again be sky-high. They are ranked only second behind hosts and tournament favourites England, both in the ODI rankings as well as contenders for the coveted prize. Here’s looking at what makes the Virat Kohli led team such a formidable force at this year’s event:
The best bowling attack in the competition
For the first time in their history, India enter the tournament as the best bowling side. Led by the best ODI bowler in the world Jasprit Bumrah, India have a potent attack comprising swing bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar and resurgent pacer Mohammad Shami. They are backed up by 2 world-class wrist-spinners in Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. The services of Hardik Pandya, Kedar Jadav, Vijay Shankar and Ravindra Jadeja can also be called upon should they require additional bowling options.
The best top order in the tournament
In Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, India have arguably the best top 3 batsmen in this format. Between them they have scored 24,208 ODI runs and 79 centuries in this format, which is more than the top 3 of any of the teams in the competition. As was the case in the last edition, if the top 3 get going, then India’s march to the finals will be that much easier.
A clutch of all-rounders
India have at their disposal a clutch of batting all-rounders who are pretty handy with the ball. Senior pro Ravindra Jadeja has 174 wickets bowling left-arm off-spin, while Hardik Pandya has 44 wickets with his seam up deliveries. Kedar Yadav is also a useful proposition, bowling orthodox off-spin with a low action that has befuddled many a batsman, and finally newcomer Vijay Shankar gives the team another option with his slow medium style of bowling.
The Men in Blue have most bases covered with only a suspect middle-order being a cause for concern. Should they sort that out then they could be unstoppable at cricket’s showpiece event. Their legion of fans will be out in full force at the event and over a billion more around the globe will be cheering them on. They will be expecting nothing short of victory.
Cricketers all around the world are adored but only in India are they worshipped. Will Virat Kohli and his men answer their prayers and fulfil a billion dreams on another English summer day?