India’s success off the field has not been matched by their performances on it at World Cups over the last decade but with a near-perfect buildup, familiar conditions and recent history on their side, the hosts are favourites to end their title drought.
Rohit Sharma and his men head into the 50-overs showpiece event as the world’s top-ranked ODI team and with the hopes of a cricket-mad country of 1.4 billion on their shoulders.
Despite their huge financial muscle, India have not won a global title since lifting the 2013 Champions Trophy but their smooth run-up to the World Cup has given fans optimism that Rohit’s side are set to put that right.
India won the Asia Cup last month, beating former world champions Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the tournament, and have all their frontline players available after welcoming back Jasprit Bumrah, KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer from injury.
Rohit has spoken frequently about his desire to win a global title and even as firecrackers were going off in Colombo after the Asia Cup final the opener told fans to put their celebrations on hold until they win the World Cup.
“You don’t get World Cups served on a platter,” he told reporters last month. “You have to really work hard and that is what we have been doing all these years.”
India’s players know every inch of the venues and are well used to the evening dew that makes the ball slippery in the second innings.
With Rohit and Shubman Gill forming a redoubtable opening pair, and stalwart Virat Kohli following them in at number three, India have the kind of batting experience which could prove invaluable, especially while chasing.
While the top order trio bring a certain assuredness, Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav provide the X-factor.
With the ball, India have a sprightly pace attack led by Bumrah, and have almost wrapped Kuldeep Yadav in cotton wool after the left-arm wristspinner was named Player of the Series at the Asia Cup.
“We don’t want to expose him a lot,” Rohit explained after the spinner played only one match in the home series against Australia.
Of India’s three all-rounders, Hardik Pandya has the ability to win a match on his own, plundering runs in the death overs or cranking up the speed to prise out wickets in the middle overs.
India will also take encouragement from the performances of home teams at the tournament, with the hosts winning the last three editions, beginning with India in 2011.
Of the current squad only Kohli was part of Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side which beat Sri Lanka in the final in Mumbai 12 years ago.
After that win, Indian players hauled Sachin Tendulkar onto their shoulders and gave him a victory lap, with Kohli saying he deserved that honour after carrying the side for more than 20 years.
Kohli may not get another chance to win the World Cup as he will be almost 39 by the time the next edition rolls in 2027.
Perched on his team mates’ shoulders on a victory lap of the world’s largest cricket stadium after the Oct. 19 final would be a fitting World Cup farewell for another Indian batting great.