Since 1994, the Indian team has been scaling great heights and their performance in various international matches has improved year after year. The biggest triumph for the Indian team has been the victory in the tri-angular series featuring Australia, hosts New Zealand and India. India performed much above expectations and humbled the mighty Aussies, besides the hosts.
Australia have been the best in the World for over a decade and a half now. Except for the inaugural World Cup in 1973, the Australians had only one reversal when they lost the 1993 World Cup to hosts England. Led by the attacking Belinda Clark, the Australians start as favourites to retain the World Cup that they won in India in 1997.
But the success of 1995 on New Zealand pitches and the fact that Indian spin attack is the best in the world make India the joint favourites along with Australia. Added to this is the solidity that the Indian batting now displays. With skipper Anju Jain and her deputy Anjum Chopra oozing confidence in the pre-departure press conference, and with runs to back their words, the Indian team is right at the top vying for top honours.
The teenage sensation Mithali Raj and former captain Chandrakanta Ahir along with Anju Jain and Anjum Chopra present a formidable batting line up. However the trump card is Purnima Rau, the former captain. She was originally considered as the batting main stay but her success with her off spinners (she has the maximum number of wickets in One-dayers amongst the current lot) has relegated her batting ability to the background. The Muthaiah Muralitharan of the Indian women's team has been a big success with the ball but she needs to make her dream, of playing an innings like the one Aravinda De Silva did to win the Cup for Sri Lanka, become a reality.
The left arm spinners Deepa Kulkarni and Neetu David are the best of their ilk while Purnima will be assisted by the other off spinner Roopanjali Shastri. The inability of the overseas batsmen to use the feet to the Indian spinners has made the Indian spin attack a very potent one.
Ever since India started participating in the World Cup (1978), they have been amongst the top four teams and this pattern has remained the same till 1997. India have been able to beat one of the top three teams, comprising of Australia, England and New Zealand, in a World Cup encounter only once, which was in the 1982 World Cup when we had the better of England thanks to a brilliant performance by wicket-keeper and opening batsman, Fowzieh Khaleeli.
But this is all set to change in the seventh issue of the World Cup. India returned victorious from the 1999 tour of England. Even prior to that, India beat England in the One-dayers during the latter's tour of India in 1996. India also had the better of Australia and New Zealand during the 1995 Tri-angular series. On current form, India can overcome both England and New Zealand and can also upset Australia on a given day. Provided the batting clicks. If India can put up 200 plus in a match, the match should go India's way considering their bowling and the improved standard of fielding.
The high level of confidence emanating from the Indian team augurs well for the team. All that remains is to translate it into reality on the battlefields. A lot of hard work has gone into the preparation for the biggest event and at the crunch time, a lot of disciplined batting and guts are required. But then, no faint heart ever won a fair lady. They only can do well who think they can.
And the Indian team is well equipped to handle the situation even though a series in the interim would have only helped the matter. The ideal culmination of any team's efforts will be winning the most coveted trophy, The World Cup, which needs extra effort on the D-day. After all the ripest peach is the highest on a tree. I am confident India will improve their standing in this World Cup.