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Why should you support them?
India go into this World Cup with the rarity of having a more assured bowling pack than their batting unit. Their top-order consists of two of the best batsmen in the world right now, but there's uncertainty in the middle-order that affects the equilibrium of this side.
Bowling meanwhile, has two highly-potent wrist spinners - as opposed to most teams that carry just one - and a difference-maker in Jasprit Bumrah, who will deny teams at the death and trigger jaw drops in the process. Their IPL form notwithstanding, both Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami make for an able ally for Bumrah, while also giving India the option (and the lure) of fielding both in a three-man pace attack.
So what's their gameplan?
Strike with the top-three, smother with spin
A top-three of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli nearly makes up for India's vulnerable middle-order that follows. But even with that, India aren't quite the PowerPlay bashers that the hosts are. They prefer to build gradually towards a total in the range of 280-320. Hardik Pandya's ever-improving six hitting skills might nudge that upper limit further if they play on flat pitches throughout.
More crucial to India's fortunes have been how well Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal have bowled in tandem in the last couple of years. Kuldeep particularly will be one to watch out, after he messed with England last year and forced them to turn towards Merlyn - a chinaman-simulator machine in the nets. The contests got interesting as the bilateral series progressed last year, with England even managing to deal with him slightly better with each game. The World Cup, however, will not afford teams the luxury of time against him.
Should teams still wiggle out of the spin challenge through the middle-overs, they will have a Bumrah-sized hurdle ahead of them at the death.
Which player should you get excited about?
In the last 12 months, the all-rounder has become so integral to the team, that his absence through injury (or suspension) has led to a shake-up in the team balance for India. His value - with the bat - will multiply manifold as India's middle trio of Vijay Shankar, MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav is untested, not in prime form and prone to injury. Ravindra Jadeja could be in the mix too, but his batting returns have diminished over the years.
Hardik has not just slotted in as an efficient finisher - and shown further improvement, if IPL 2019 is anything to go by - but has also been used as a floater across that middle-order, even batting at No.4 on a couple of occasions. And irrespective of where he bats, there's theatre - he'll flex muscles when he creams bowlers for fours and sixes, and then look on sheepishly when he gets thoroughly beaten. What's not to get excited about?
On days when India play four pure bowlers - two pacers, two spinners or three pacers, two spinners depending on the conditions - Pandya's job with the ball becomes even more crucial. If India's attempts to sneak in a few overs of Jadhav's spin fall flat, Pandya's bowling role will increase.
Which of their fixtures should you not miss?
vs England in Birmingham on June 30
This World Cup could be the big tournament when you look beyond the obvious India-Pakistan fixture for heightened drama, and train your focus on the India-England game instead. It is after all the drama-inducing clash of contrasting ODI ideologies, and of two teams at the peak of its powers.
England have been nothing short of sensational - picking up the scraps that remained in the aftermath of their 2015 campaign, and re-engineered a masterpiece that in its simplest form revolves around smashing every ball in sight. India too have taken unexpected turns - a la wrist spin - but remain firm believers in the ability to defend sub-300 totals while England are eyeing 500. Feisty doesn't begin to describe the encounter between these two head-strong teams in terms of ideas and execution.
What are their chances?
Virat Kohli has an interesting take on World Cups. He rated India's recent Test series triumph in Australia over the 2011 title win (his first World Cup appearance), simply because it didn't come after he'd experienced the emotion of not winning it before - like many in that squad had done. Tests in Australia, however, invoked that feeling in him, when he went and won it last year.
But this World Cup should be different, surely? For starters, he's the best batsman in the world currently, and arrives in England as captain of the Indian side. If inspiration from failure is all he seeks, then the 2015 semifinal exit should do good. Besides, there's more to add to the EQ of this side with this (possibly) being MS Dhoni's last go in a major tournament.
And the fact that India have been ahead of the curve ball in terms of relying on wrist spin, makes them a worthy contender. A semifinal appearance should be the bare minimum as far as expectations go.
Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, MS Dhoni (wk), Dinesh Karthik (wk), Hardik Pandya, Vijay Shankar, Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami
June 5: vs South Africa at the Rose Bowl, Southampton [D]
June 9: vs Australia at Kennington Oval, London [D]
June 13: vs New Zealand at Trent Bridge, Nottingham [D]
June 16: vs Pakistan at Emirates Old Trafford, Manchester [D]
June 22: vs Afghanistan at the Rose Bowl, Southampton [D]
June 27: vs West Indies at Emirates Old Trafford, Manchester [D]
June 30: vs England at Edgbaston, Birmingham [D]
July 02: vs Bangladesh at Edgbaston, Birmingham [D]
July 06: vs Sri Lanka at Headingley, Leeds [D]
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