New Delhi: Critics have suggested that India should go into the World Cup with 11 batsmen because its bowlers are more prone to err in crunch situations.
The banter currently doing the rounds is not without significance, for Saurav Ganguly's team has relied more on batsmen than bowlers to achieve success in recent times. Batting has been the main strength of the Indian team, containing a trio of world- class players in Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Ganguly himself.
Hard-hitting Virender Sehwag and young guns Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif complete the batting line-up, which wears an impressive and formidable look - at least on paper. Any number of bowlers can complete the quota of 50 overs, for it is the batsmen who will finally have a major say in an India victory or defeat. Again, the banter is not wide off the mark. Indian batsmen atoned for their specialist bowlers' lapses when they twice successfully chased a target of more than 325 last year - against England in the NatWest Trophy final at Lord's and the West Indies at Ahmedabad. A specialist wicket-keeper is not required to maintain the team's balance as make- shift Dravid has been doing the job for nearly a year, albeit with mixed results.
Ganguly put things in perspective when he said he was more concerned about his batsmen's recent form than the contracts row involving the players and administrators. "The key to our success in the World Cup will be how quickly our batsmen regain form," he said. "It is vital that three of us (Tendulkar, Dravid and myself) fire collectively in South Africa," said Ganguly. The form of the batsmen dipped alarmingly on the recent tour of New Zealand where India surpassed the 200-mark just once in seven One-dayers to lose the series 5-2 on seamer-friendly pitches. Even Tendulkar, the world's top scorer with 11,546 runs and a record 33 centuries in 303 matches, was reduced to the role of a passenger as he made just two in three One- dayers. "We have to get our hunger back," said Ganguly.
"We have been to South Africa before and our boys have been successful there. So, I firmly believe that all of them are good enough to do well." India will be praying that the South African pitches are vastly different from those of New Zealand where the ball seamed and bounced a lot to make life miserable for the batsmen. India has a pair of free-stroking openers in Sehwag and Ganguly, capable of giving a blistering start with their over-the-top hitting in the opening 15 overs when field restrictions require just two men outside the circle.
Tendulkar and Dravid provide solidity to the middle, while Kaif, Yuvraj and Bangar are skilful at stepping up the run rate in the end-overs. Batsmen are to Ganguly's team what all-rounders were to Kapil Dev's 1983 side which defied all the odds to lift the World Cup by beating Clive Lloyd's all-conquering West Indians in the final. India qualified for the semi-finals in 1987 and 1996 at home, but came a cropper in the 1999 World Cup in England where Mohammad Azharuddin's team could not make it even to the last four.
The sooner India recover from the New Zealand nightmare the better for it because it cannot afford a slip in the World Cup where it is clubbed with Australia, Pakistan, England, Zimbabwe, Namibia and The Netherlands in a tough preliminary group. With only the top three teams advancing to the Super Six stage, India will have to beat at least two Test-playing nations in the league. India pin its hopes on batsmen, for it looks short of genuine all-rounders and match- winning bowlers. Veteran fast bowler Javagal Srinath and left-arm seamer Zaheer Khan bowled well in New Zealand, but others often lacked discipline and consistency. India wishes its bowlers return to the run-containing ways in the mega event.
India: Saurav Ganguly (captain), Virender Sehwag, Dinesh Mongia, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Sanjay Bangar, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Parthiv Patel.