The Indian cricket team go into the latest edition of the ICC Champions Trophy to be held in England as overwhelming favorites to defend the title they won four years ago in this very country. This would also be the first time since the 2007 Cricket World Cup where India won’t be captained by Mahendra Singh Dhoni in an ICC event, clearly signalling a change in guard and the dawn of a new era under Virat Kohli. India, who haven’t played a competitive 50 over game in almost 5 months showed no signs of lack of match practice in the two warm-up matches it played against New Zealand and Bangladesh and completely decimated their opposition in both the ties. The current form of the Indian team should definitely worry all the other sides participating in the competition. Let us look at India’s prospect using a SWOT analysis, a SWOT analysis refers to taking into consideration Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats in order to arrive at any conclusion.
The notion that India is predominantly a batting team might just be about to change. India go into the tournament with one of the best bowling attacks for a change. India have terrific death bowlers in Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah. They have a fantastic swing bowler in Bhuvneshwar Kumar who can exploit the bowler friendly English conditions to his advantage and be a nightmare for the opening batsmen. Kohli can also bank upon the two Ravis- Ravi Ashwin & Ravi Jadeja to tighten the screws on the opposition in the middle overs and also take wickets just in case the Sun decides to show up during the match, making the pitch dry and helpful for the spinners. Something that India have been desperately searching for since Kapil Dev’s retirement is a fast bowling all-rounder. This has been India’s Achilles heel for the past two decades or so, India have given the opportunity to a plethora of cricketers in the hope of finding somebody as good as Kapil Dev. Irfan Pathan came closest to being India’s permanent fast bowling all-rounder until he suffered a few injuries and being a victim of bad form. But, India do have someone who goes by the name of Hardik Pandya, a bowler who can consistently clock 140 kmph and be effective at the death overs, and a batsmen who can also play the role of a finisher in the side. Another thing that goes in favor of the Indian side is their fitness and the fielding standards they’ve set in the past 24-36 months. A side that didn’t always boast of the fittest players, nor the best fielders, today has both. Virat Kohli and Shankar Basu, India’s fitness trainer, must be given credit for changing the temperament in the dressing room. They have changed everyone’s approach towards fitness and diet which has improved their performance on the field.
With Rohit Sharma making a comeback into the Indian side after a lengthy layoff due to injury and Shikhar Dhawan who also hasn’t been in the best of forms off late, India’s openers seem to be a weak link in the otherwise exceptional batting line-up. Captain Kohli would also have another concern worrying his mind, the team selection. With players like Ajinkya Rahane, Yuvraj Singh, Kedar Jadhav and Dinesh Karthik virtually battling for that coveted no.4 position, it’ll be a tough call to make considering how Kohli would want to field 4 genuine bowlers plus one all-rounder. He would not only be fazed by selection dilemma in the batting department, but also in the bowling department. It would be a selection between Ashwin and Jadeja because he would want to play with three pacers and Hardik Pandya. It may as well come down to the number of right/left handed batsmen in a particular side to choose between the two Ravis. Yes, India are going into the tournament with 15 exceptional players, but in crucial tournaments like these, it all comes down to your final playing XI and the team combination you choose to field which can make all the difference. Recently, there have been reports of a rift between Virat Kohli and team India coach, Anil Kumble over a plethora of issues ranging from team selection to whether or not should India have a conditioning camp midway through a series. When there are rifts like these, it often affects the atmosphere of the side and usually doesn’t have a very positive impact on the team performance. All sports teams today have sports psychologists who help players deal with stress, and to not let them get affected by stress, but when there are disagreements like these it does affect the mental health of the dressing room.
The Indian opening pair of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have come around a full circle. It was the Champions Trophy in 2013, also in England where these two had the opportunity to make a mark for themselves and make that opening slot their own. Now after 4 yours, the duo are looking to once again stamp their authority at the very top owing to injuries and a run of poor scores in the recent past. Their opening spots are also threatened due to the emergence of KL Rahul, who sadly misses out through injury. Rohit & Shikhar should look at this as an opportunity to be the reckoning force they once were. This tournament is also a chance for Yuvraj Singh to really cement a place in India’s starting XI and to once again be one of India’s most pivotal players in the limited overs format. Yuvraj Singh has been a match-winner for India and had a major hand in India lifting the 2007 T-20 World Cup and the 2011 ODI World Cup, having him play like that would be every Indian fan’s dream come true.
The biggest threat to India’s trophy defense would be hosts, England. England who have been in great form off late will certainly fancy their chances at home. Having a dangerous opening combination in Hales & Roy, an experienced middle order with Joe Root and skipper Eoin Morgan, probably the world’s best all-rounder currently Ben Stokes and a more than decent bowling line-up, England have all bases covered with this side and would look to win their maiden Champions Trophy. England would also be eyeing revenge against India, where they lost to India in a rain-affected final in 2013.
India do look like they have it in them to go all the way and defend the title they won four years ago. Progressing to the semis shouldn’t really be a concern with Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka in their pool. Matches against Pakistan and Sri Lanka should be fairly easy for India with South Africa being the only tough obstacle in India’s quest for a semi final berth. There is every possibility that there would be a repeat of the 2013 Champions Trophy final between India and England, just like an India vs England final, there is also every possibility that India retain the Champions Trophy.