Will World Cup hosts India handle heat and play fearless cricket when it matters? | Cricket News

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The Cricket World Cup crowds have been pretty sparse so far but that is unlikely to be the case when the host nation begin their campaign on Sunday.

You would imagine that scores of India fans will pour in to the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai for the clash with five-time champions Australia, live on Sky Sports Cricket from 9.30am.

The cricket-mad home spectators will expect a performance. They will demand a performance. They will want a statement display that shows their team are ready to win a first ICC event in a decade.


Sunday 8th October 9:00am


India’s star names roll off the tongue – Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja, Hardik Pandya, Mohammed Shami.

Kohli is perhaps the starriest of them all and will have designs on becoming the leading hundred hitter in the history of ODI cricket by the end of this tournament with the 34-year-old only two tons shy of the record 49 amassed by the great Sachin Tendulkar.

There is a new star in town, too: Shubman Gill.

The leading run-scorer in ODI cricket this year (1,230 runs at 72.35). The youngest man to hit an ODI double century – doing so against New Zealand at the age of 23 years and 132 days.

The second half of a superb opening partnership with captain Rohit, albeit one that may not be deployed against Australia with Gill battling dengue fever.

Quality has never been India’s issue in global events. Getting the job done has been, though.

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Nasser Hussain, Simon Doull and Eoin Morgan analyse Cricket World Cup hosts India and debate whether they can play a fearless style when the pressure is on

Since beating England to win the Champions Trophy in 2013, India have won only two knockout matches in Worlds Cups or Champions Trophies, losing their other six.

Their most recent defeat came against England in last year’s T20 World Cup semi-final. India ambled to 168-6 batting first in Adelaide, a score their opponents stormed past in 16 overs without losing a wicket. England played fearless cricket. India seemed inhibited.

Sky Sports’ Nasser Hussain said: “India will have to overcome the pressure. You could argue an Indian cricketer is always under pressure but where they have fallen short is in the knockout stage.

“In Adelaide last year they plodded along to a below-par score and England knocked them off. In the 2019 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand they plodded along. They have to go above par and play fearless cricket when they get to the knockout stage.”

‘India play stats-driven cricket – they worry about what people say’

Hussain’s fellow Sky Sports Cricket expert Simon Doull added of India: “Fearless cricket is their issue. They don’t play it enough. They play stats-driven cricket, are too worried by their stats too often.

India's Virat Kohli celebrates his century during the Asia Cup game against Pakistan (Associated Press)
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Virat Kohli has 47 ODI hundreds, two shy of Sachin Tendulkar’s record number of 49

“They have got all the talent. Some of the best players in the world, if not the best players in the world, but it is about playing that fearless cricket at the right time of the tournament.

“They don’t go out and take risks because they are so worried about what might be said, what might be printed, or about their place in the team. That’s my one concern with them.”

Another concern Hussain noted was the length of India’s tail: “Their batters don’t bowl and their bowlers don’t bat so they have a different make-up to England or Australia with all the all-rounders.”

There appear few other concerns.

India possess a run-laden batting line-up – one of Suryakumar Yadav or Shreyas Iyer could enter if Gill’s illness keeps him out – which features the only man to have scored three ODI double hundreds (Rohit) and the fastest man to 13,000 runs in the format (Kohli).

India's Mohammed Siraj poses with the trophy after India won the Asia Cup final cricket match between India and Sri Lanka in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023.(AP Photo/Pankaj Nangia)
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Mohammed Siraj toom four wickets in one over as India crushed Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup final last month

Hardik gives the ball a whack in the middle order and delivers crucial overs of seam bowling, while the pace attack has welcomed back Bumrah – a man who moves the new ball and is excellent with his variations in the death overs – after injury.

It also contains Mohammed Siraj. He has claimed 30 wickets in 14 ODIs this calendar year, including four in one over as India razed Sri Lanka for 50 to win the Asia Cup last month.

Spin-wise, only Nepal’s Sandeep Lamichhane has claimed more ODI scalps in 2023 than Kuldeep Yadav’s 33. Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin are other fine slow-bowling options for the hosts.

‘Home conditions give you a certain level of comfort’

The fact that they are hosts is surely India’s biggest advantage of all. No home side has ever won the Men’s T20 World Cup but the last three 50-over versions have been won by the country staging the event – India in 2011, Australia in 2015, England in 2019.

England’s 2019 World Cup-winning captain Eoin Morgan told Sky Sports: “Home conditions give you a certain level of comfort, a certain level of habit that you have already grooved over the years.

“It is an advantage other teams don’t have. This might sound silly, but I think it will be easier blocking out the noise in India because they have done it before [in 2011].”

Rohit Sharma (Associated Press)
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India captain Rohit Sharma has scored three ODI double hundreds in his career

That is true, but India were perhaps not great at blocking out the noise in the 2016 T20 World Cup on their own patch, skittled for 79 by New Zealand while losing the opening match in Nagpur and then outgunned by West Indies in the semi-final in Mumbai.

All things considered, though, India are favourites for a reason. Many reasons.

It would be no surprise if Kohli were carried on a team-mate’s shoulders in Ahmedabad on November 19 with India having won the World Cup, just as Kohli carried Tendulkar on his shoulders after the team’s 2011 triumph at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.

India are a fearsome proposition but can they be a fearless one? A nation expects. A nation demands.

Watch India’s Cricket World Cup opener vs Australia, in Chennai, live on Sky Sports Cricket from 9am on Sunday (9.30am first ball) or stream with NOW for £21 a month for six months.

You can also follow over-by-over commentary and video clips with a live blog on skysports.com and the Sky Sports App.

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