It has been a strange sort of World Cup for Team India. While all other teams were busy in the first six days playing at least two matches, Virat Kohli’s men have been spending time in and around England from the day of the opening ceremony. A day in the backwoods playing bonding games with Paintball was by far the most unusual. They also had to cop some criticism, some of it unfair like questions about why they are all seen smiling in bonding session photographs.
The great trick to sport in a World Cup competition is how to keep the players’ minds occupied when they are not immersed in preparing for games in long net sessions followed by the kip session in hotels before gathering at hotel team meeting rooms for bonding in the evenings. But Team India are said to be experts at taking their mind off the game while not quite losing the focus of a Cup campaign.
The World Cup in the subcontinent in 2011 and in Australia-New Zealand in 2015 were particularly testing as time tended to hang heavy on the teams whose games were spread wide apart in the league stage. Dhoni was considered a master strategist as he had allowed his Men in Blue to amble along in the league without stressing them out in 2011 and called for full focus from the knockouts that seemed to take an eternity to come. India won that cup for Sachin.
Kohli has had an easier job as his team will have a busy enough days in June after the delayed start. In the runup to the match, they spent more time in the gym to keep reminding their muscles of the tasks coming up. But if you are wondering why this week off before the first game, it’s because the IPL finally was originally scheduled to be played on May 19 and by the Lodha panel recommendations a 15-day gap had to be compulsorily given for recovery time before Team India could play again. But the national general elections later brought the IPL final forward to May 12. By then the World Cup schedule had been locked in.
The day in the backwoods playing games seemed freakish. But sports psychologists and analysts would say this is brilliant planning. To ease off before jumping into the fray is a luxury in these days of hyper-competitive cricket played with few rest days in between games like in the IPL calendar. A Team India, mentally relaxed and yet well-prepared, will be walking into the Rose Bowl in Southampton on Wednesday.
The spunky Kagiso Rabada of South Africa has tried to talk up the match to rile his opponents in ribbing Virat Kohli with the comment that while Kohli could dish it out when it comes to chatter with opponents on the field, he could not so much take it when he is paid back in the same coin. “Kohli is immature, he can’t take abuse,” says the fast bowler who has had a few run-ins with the Indian captain, both in international cricket and in IPL before a back injury forced him to retreat.
The support from fans has been tremendous for Team India as they get into the thick of the action. There has been backing even from unexpected sources with Bayern Munich forward Thomas Mueller emerging as a fan of India’s bid for glory. Mueller revealed to news agencies that India captain Virat Kohli had often supported the German national football team in the past and so he is returning the favour by backing the two-time World Cup winners.
With a picture of him wearing an Indian cricket shirt and holding a bat in one hand, Mueller tweeted: “I wish all participants of the Cricket #WorldCup2019 good luck & thrilling matches. “Especially I cross my fingers for @imVkohli, the captain of the Indian team. He’s a fan of @DFB_Team and supported it multiple times in the past #Cricket #GermanyCheersForIndia.
The travelling media may have been a little sore with the team for sending a couple of surplus net bowlers to a press conference. It is typical of BCCI to ignore the media or outright insult it as it did in Southampton. Be that as it may, interest in Team India preparations has been intense. All speculation about the No. 4 batting spot may have been scotched by the KL Rahul special in the warmup game. The team’s selection of specialist bowlers will be more interesting.
Besides the pace cavalcade, would the XI sport a spinner cum late order batsman Ravindra Jadeja in place of one of the wrist spinners as he will also see the team’s fielding pick up or will they stick with the googly merchants as the best spin options? The choice may be most revealing of Team India’s mindset as it begins the World Cup campaign, but with the additional threat of some bad weather on the southern coast on the first playing day.