Paarl (South Africa): Its confidence dented after a thrashing at the hands of New Zealand and a ragtag local side in its last practice match, India needs a crushing performance and not a mere victory against minnows Holland as it opens its World Cup campaign on Wednesday.
Once tipped as World Cup favourites but now reduced to anxious starters, ideally India should not face much problem against the minnows which has come here through the ICC qualifiers. But India has been served a warning against complacency by way of upset results in the opening games. In the tournament opener, South Africa was stunned by three runs by a resurgent West Indies at Newlands and next day Sri Lanka proved too good for Stephen Fleming's New Zealand side.
It is crucial for India to strike big on Wednesday if it hopes to do well against other heavyweights in its Group. India will square up against Australia, England and Pakistan in subsequent league matches and in between there is a tie against Zimbabwe which looked in cracking form against Namibia on Monday, thumping its highest One-day score of 340 in Harare. Skipper Saurav Ganguly insisted the team will not take Holland lightly and wily off spinner Harbhajan Singh echoed the sentiments of his other teammates saying, "We were casual in our practice match but since then we have sat down and discussed and decided that we will treat every game as the most difficult one of the tournament."
India's biggest concern starts at the very top where captain Saurav Ganguly has made just 58 runs from his last seven One-day innings. Sachin Tendulkar, with just two runs in his last three games after missing 11 matches against West Indies and New Zealand due to injuries, and Rahul Dravid with 116 runs from last seven games, only adds to India's growing batting concern. To compound miseries for India, young guns Dinesh Mongia and Mohammad Kaif also have little going their way in the past few months, scoring 14 and 55 runs in their three and seven matches.
But all of them would like to set aside their recent disappointments and draw positives from the greater part of 2002 when they gelled well as a team and pulled off memorable victories. India will also be anxious to know the form of its fastest bowler Zaheer Khan who has not bowled in the two practice games and has hardly been seen in the nets. The pitch at Boland Park was being watered on Monday to keep it from breaking up but has usually produced high scores as attested by former India player Vinod Kambli who plays for Boland in the domestic competition. India also carry happy memories from this venue as Tendulkar and Ganguly put on a world record 258 runs for the opening wicket against Kenya here during the Standard Bank tri-series of 2001.
India has little idea about Holland except stray sound bites or video clips related to its match against England at Baroda during the 1996 World Cup. One of the links from the 1996 World Cup is Holland's fast-bowling captain Roland Lefebvre who spent six years between 1990 and 1995 with Somerset and then Glamorgan. At 40, he is a year older than England's Alec Stewart and brings plenty of experience to greenhorns Dutch side. Other than Lefebvre, Bas Zuiderent, who plays for Sussex, is the only member of the Dutch squad to have played county cricket.
Zuiderent carved his own niche during the 1996 tournament when as a 16-year-old prodigy he struck 54 against England to become the second youngest cricketer after Sachin Tendulkar to score a World Cup 50. The team also includes World Cup veterans Tim de Leeds and Klaas-Jan van Noortwijk. Spearheading the charge of young players are 20-year-old opener Daan van Bunge and off spinning sensation Adeel Raja. Holland qualified for the World Cup after victory in the 2001 ICC Trophy for associate members and is seen by many as the best of the non-playing countries taking part in the tournament.
It has competed in England's domestic C&G Trophy tournament since 1997, and progressed to the fourth round, defeating first class side Durham in the process, in 1999. But Holland produced a string of disappointing results in 2002, winning just two of its five matches against second string opposition at the European Cricket Championships and proving no match for the heavyweights at the ICC Champions Trophy in Colombo in September. It was crushed by hosts Sri Lanka and then obliterated by Pakistan's Shahid Afridi.
But Dutch team manager Hans Mulder has ambitions of beating a high-profile team in this World Cup. Holland has a good experience of local conditions as it has been operating a winter academy programme in South Africa for more than three years. Most members of the side came to train in the academy at least three months before the start of the World Cup and have been busy playing matches and tuning themselves up for the big moment.
The teams (from): India: Saurav Ganguly (captain), Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Dinesh Mongia, Parthiv Patel, Sanjay Bangar, Ajit Agarkar, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif.
Netherlands: Roland Lefebvre (captain), Luuk van Troost, Daan van Bunge, Jacob Esmeijer, Victor Grandia, Feiko Kloppenburg, Tim de Leede, Henk Mol, Klaus van Noortwijk, Adeel Raja, Edgar Schiferli, Reinhout Scholte, Jeroen Smits, Nick Statham and Bas Zuiderent.
Umpires: Daryl Harper (Australia) and Peter Willey (England).
TV umpire: Nadeem Ghauri (Pakistan).
Match referee: Denis Lindsay (South Africa).