In the movie Jerry Maguire, on a stormy, rainy night, Jerry (Tom Cruise), a sports agent gets all touchy-feely, suddenly sprouts a conscience and writes and distributes a mission statement on the future of his company, focusing on fewer clients, personal relationships and less money. The net result is he loses his job and all his clients, save one. A Rod Tidwell (played magnificently by Cuba Gooding Jr), a wide receiver from the Arizona Cardinals playing American football in the NFL. Both hold on to each other, hanging by a thin thread. Rod wants a lucrative, long-term contract to support his family and Jerry wants his commission. Rod explains to Jerry with a twinkle in his eyes, gesticulating and sounding out mellifluously with his mouth, the importance of the word ‘Kwan’ and how desirous he is of it. He tells him it means love, respect, community and dollars, the works. World Cup Cricket 2019 is the Kwan. The Shalimar of all cricketing tournaments. The ultimate prize in the cricketing world.
The mega tournament starts on May 30 in England and features the top ten teams. The format is simple. Each team plays the other nine teams and the top four teams qualify for the semi-finals. India play their first game on June 5 and will have to hit the ground running as they take on South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan in their first four encounters. Morgan & Co fancied lot: England go in as favourites to win the Cup and are the team to beat. They have been to three World Cup finals in the past but surprisingly, have not won any. They play on home turf, are the number one team in the ODI format, are ably represented by the seasoned captain Eoin Morgan and have the right arsenal to make a dent. Australia, New Zealand South Africa and West Indies must also fancy their chances to make the final four for different reasons. The inclusion of Steve Smith and David Warner is sure to bolster the Aussies. South Africa have been tagged as chokers in the World Cup and they will come in as underdogs, which is to their advantage. New Zealand has been consistent and West Indies has the firepower to create an upset.
India is also a favourite to reach the last four. A much-talked about topic has been the omission of Rishabh Pant from the team. Pant would have brought that X factor to the team. The argument that the team went for experience over youth in choosing Dinesh Karthik over Pant is specious. Dinesh Karthik did prove his worth in the Nidihas Trophy T20 final last year when he single-handedly pulled off a sensational win for India against Bangladesh but he is yet to be tested in the ODI format. Besides, the injury Kedar Jadhav suffered during IPL means he is desperately short of match practice. Pant is immensely talented but is accused of coming up short temperamentally. But again, temperament is something which can be worked on with patience and support. In hindsight, it seems as though the decision to drop Pant was almost premeditated, as he was not given many chances to prove his worth in the one-dayers leading up to the tournament.
High-scoring encounters: If the recent ODI series between Pakistan and England is any indication, the tournament promises to be a high- scoring one, with short grounds and flat pitches. As Virat Kohli said, the 500-run mark could be breached for the first time in this tournament. But then, one must be careful in one’s assumptions. The tournament starts in May when it could be hot in England but come July, one can expect a few rainy days and some overcast conditions. The weather in England could change at the drop of a hat.
Picking the best eleven: So what does India have to do to win the World Cup? The selection of the right playing eleven is going to be vital, based on the conditions. Our management made a few howlers in the composition of the team during the test tour of England. India has not been tested when it comes to chasing a big total in overseas conditions. Besides, batting overseas has been a problem over the last eighteen months. So, if we make it to the semifinals/finals and we have perfectly good batting conditions, we should bat first if we win the toss. Remember the Champions trophy in 2017 when we surrendered the advantage to Pakistan by bowling first after winning the toss? And we have to get all the little things right. Jasprit Bumrah and Yuzvendra Chahal can’t overstep the bowling line. Especially Bumrah, who has this habit of bowling no-balls to key players at critical junctures. The no-ball dismissal of Fakhar Zaman by Bumrah in the Champions trophy final proved too costly for India.
Take the cue from 1983: But most importantly, as Jerry tells Tidwell in the film, “Play the game with your heart and I will show you the Kwan and that’s the truth”. The Indian team played with a lot of heart in the 1983 World Cup final after being dismissed for a paltry 183 against the mighty West Indies. They just refused to go away. Kapil Dev’s 175 not out against Zimbabwe when India was reduced to 17-5 was all heart. Can this current Indian team display enough heart during testing times and play as a team? That will decide our fate in this tournament. Tidwell does take his team to the NFL playoffs and is rewarded with a long contract. And Jerry gets his commission and stays afloat. Rod, in a television interview, weeps profusely remembering Jerry and says, “You are my ambassador of Kwan, man!” Indian fans don’t want to hear Virat Kohli explaining how and why we lost the match, at the end of the semis or finals. In sports, sympathy does not matter. Nor do calculation or history. The winner takes it all. We want India to go all the way. And win. We want the KWAN. Will the Indian team deliver?