The stage is set for the 13th edition of ICC Men's Cricket World Cup. After the completion of the three match ODI series against Australia, the Indian men’s cricket team will gear up to play the world cup from October 5. High on confidence and riding on the victory of the Asia Cup 2023 winners’ title, the Indian team will be playing the World Cup in their home turf once again amidst high expectations. “The support will be high and the pressure will be higher,” sports journalist Ayaz Memon said. The squad for the ICC World Cup 2023 has already been announced by India, with Rohit Sharma appointed as the team's captain.
In episode 11 of Frontfoot, The Core’s Joshua Thomas spoke to renowned sports journalist Ayaz Memon about the upcoming cricket world cup, the Indian squad, and the other participating teams.
“No injury fears, a victory to back the efforts and it couldn’t be better. Of course, now we'll have to wait and see how the team fares against Australia in an ODI series, which is just the kind of launch pad, in a way, for the World Cup for both the teams, because after this there are no more engagements for India,” Menon said.
On Rohit Sharma leading the Indian squad in the world cup, Memon said, “He's got actually a fantastic record as a captain, not necessarily as an India captain because that only happened two years back, that he's been made India captain. Though he has in the past captained India in the Asia Cup and won the Asia Cup earlier also. But he's got five IPL titles to his credit as a captain of Mumbai Indians and he is widely regarded as one of the guys who reads match situations, game situations extremely well.”
Here are the edited excerpts from the podcast:
The 15-member squad has been announced for India for the World Cup and we are also recording now, a day after the result of the Asia Cup, which India won. So, based on their performance there and various other factors, what can we expect from the Indian team? Who do you think should have been or should not have made it to the final squad?
I think it is a two pronged question that you asked me. One is about the Asia Cup, how the Indian team has fared. And I thought that India has done extremely well in winning the title. Remember, when the Asia Cup started, it seemed that there were a few unanswered questions, particularly about the fitness of Jasprit Bumrah and KL Rahul coming back after a long day off. Also, somebody like Kuldeep Yadav, who had been in and out of the Indian team hadn't been able to cement his place, so to speak. Would he be able to make an impact? And as it turned out, all three questions have been answered in the affirmative. Rahul and Bumrah have come back extremely strongly, showing no stress or strain from their long layoff and no ill effects of the injury. And Kuldeep Yadav ended up being the player of the tournament because he just took wickets in every match that he played and looked sharp, looked in control. So that's a wonderful progress that India made in this tournament.
The batting all came good. Shubman Gill got 100. Ishan Kishan has batted really well. Virat Kohli got 100. Rohit Sharma has got runs. Hardik Pandya has performed marvellously as an all rounder. Jadeja may be a bit behind, but again, who can doubt his all round prowess. So, all things considered and then let's not forget the pace bowlers– Bumrah I have mentioned did extremely well. Mohammed Siraj actually did the starter in the final six for 21. Just completely blew away the Sri Lankan challenge. And then there's Shardul Thakur, who picks up wickets every time he comes to bowl. So, all in all, I think it just seems as if, in the jigsaw puzzle, all the pieces have been found and they make a pretty picture right now. It will give the team a huge boost to go into the World Cup on the back of a major win. Major win in the sense you're winning the Asia Cup title. So even it is not just about beating Pakistan. We beat Pakistan. And it seemed that that may have been the biggest achievement that you want during the Asia Cup. But I thought that the players stuck it out well and went on to win the tournament. That is always important.
So no injury fears, a victory to back the efforts and it couldn’t be better. Of course, now we'll have to wait and see how the team fares against Australia in an ODI series, which is just the kind of launch pad, in a way, for the World Cup for both the teams, because after this there are no more engagements for India. They get into the World Cup. The only sore point that one can think of from the Asia Cup, and it's not really a sore point, it's one of those that Shreyas Iyer for part of the… cluster of batsmen, had an injury, so he could not play much in the tournament. They are giving him some time to recover. And also Axar Patel injured himself, so he missed the final, the last match. He is probably going to be fit in another week or so after the Asia Cup final has been played. So, I mean, the final squad, which will be in the World Cup, they still have a little time till the matches against Australia are over. They can make a change or two and we will have to wait and see if they do. I mean, there was an intriguing hint that Captain Rohit Sharma laid down where he said: “Oh, but we'll wait and see how Axar fares. And Washington Sundar, who was flown in as a cover for Axar, and then he said, we're also in touch with Ravichandran Ashwin, which I thought was very interesting. I always felt that Ashwin is a stellar player in the Indian conditions and maybe he should have found a place. So it seems that the door is not completely shut on him. We will have to wait and see how it goes.
Also, one quick question about Rohit Sharma as captain, how do you think he's going to be a good captain? What is his kind of credentials or how come he was chosen as the captain for this work?
Well, he's been the India captain for the past couple of years, so he's obviously the incumbent captain.
Who's the coach for the team currently? Is there a coach?
Rahul Dravid. Okay, so I'm saying Rohit Sharma, I mean, he's got actually a fantastic record as a captain, not necessarily as an India captain because that only happened two years back, that he's been made India captain. Though he has in the past captained India in the Asia Cup and won the Asia Cup earlier also. But he's got five IPL titles to his credit as a captain of Mumbai Indians and he is widely regarded as one of the guys who reads match situations, game situations extremely well, he's a very genial guy. So the team seems to get along with him very well.
And yes, we couldn't win the T20 World Cup last year when he was a captain and we couldn't win the WTC final. That's the World Test Championship final, which was played in England earlier this year. But by and large, I don't think there's any threat to his captaincy or his captaincy credentials have diminished, so to speak. But yes, what I can say is that there's so much anticipation and expectation from the Indian team in this World Cup that the pressure will be on Rohit Sharma. If they start as favourites and don't win, then obviously there will be questions asked.
There are ten countries participating in the World Cup this year. What are the other teams looking like? I am not sure if all of them have been announced, but what are they doing to prepare for the World Cup?
They have all been engaged in playing matches here, there or somewhere. For instance, England and New Zealand played matches in England. Australia have been in South Africa playing both T20s and ODIs. The ODIs obviously as a build up to the World Cup. So they are going to come here. These are some really interesting matches. So England prevailed over New Zealand in a hard fought contest. 3-1 was the verdict in favour of England in the ODIs. So they come here on the back of a series win. New Zealand put up a stellar fight. And they performed really well. The only thing that New Zealand had to worry about is that they suffered injuries to a few players. So, how quickly those players recover, somebody like Tim Southee who is a crucial member of the team, he also had an injury. So, that is something that New Zealand will have to bother about.
Australia and South Africa were concerned that we had an upset result, where South Africa went and beat Australia in the ODI series (3-2). Again, a hard fought series and 3-2 is how S Africa won and therefore we all accepted that Australia is amongst the strongest teams and for most people among the top four teams which is playing this World Cup— India, Australia, England and Pakistan.
Now, Pakistan has taken a hammering in the Asia Cup as we know and they have also had some injuries. But New Zealand has done well and the team which has really done well, impressive may be in the last 3-4 weeks, is S Africa. To beat Australia is never easy and they did it with aplomb. So therefore, in my opinion, they also emerge as a team really to watch out for. You may not count them amongst the top four but if they get going they have got some fantastic players of white ball cricket–Quinton De Kock, David Miller, Aiden Markham, Kagiso Rabada, Keshav Maharaj, Klassen, Ngidi this is a team really to watch out for, I feel now.
Pakistan and Sri Lanka—Sri Lanka suffering from injuries to key players, Pakistan also, perhaps the worst hit psychologically. Losing to India was one thing, being bumped out of the Asia Cup prematurely, not reaching the final, which everybody expected, has made a big dent in their build up for the World Cup. And one can see, just reading the kind of stories emerging from Pakistan, that there's a lot of unhappiness and uncertainty in their ranks.
The other two teams are Afghanistan and Bangladesh, right? Are they like the underdogs in this whole thing?
Both of these teams were in the Asia Cup. You can't underestimate any team because even if they don't want to win, they might upset a few teams along the way. I mean, there's a threat from Afghanistan and for Bangladesh. Bangladesh beat India in the Asia Cup, but couldn't stop India from reaching the final, but they did beat India. Very narrow win, but they won. So you can't take any team lightly in limited overs cricket, because as I keep saying, the shorter the match, the duration of the match or the number of overs, the more level the playing field.
So, in the T 20 format, there's very little to choose between all teams. In the 50 overs format, there'll be differences because it's about technique and temperament. Teams or players who are attuned to playing a lot more 50 overs cricket and test cricket can adjust and adapt better to the demands of these longer matches. Those who are only playing T 20 most of the time, like Ireland or Scotland or Afghanistan and so on…for them, playing the 50-over format as well as the test format becomes a far more difficult challenge.
Okay, so we've talked about ten teams, but we've to talk about how they're going to be ten teams in the World Cup.
Joshua, you're right. So what will happen is that the tournament will be played between ten teams. Right now, eight have made the cut, two teams will qualify. The qualifiers will play amongst themselves, and two of those teams will enter then into the main draw and then be part of the World Cup.
And anyone you have as a favourite, any favourites for starting for the World Cup?
Yeah, I mean, India would certainly be favourites because they're playing at home.
That's a default favourite.
Not just a default favourite. I think they've been playing really well. They won the Asia Cup, for instance, and it's a very strong, very well rounded, very talented team with a lot of depth and balance.
Then there's Australia. They've won the most times in the World Cup and are a formidable side anywhere, anytime. England are currently the defending champions. Again, a team with a lot of very, versatile team because versatility comes with having quality all rounders. So they've got these kinds of players like Moeen Ali and Jos Butler, who keep wickets and bats. Ben Stokes, perhaps the best player in the world. Liam Livingston, Sam Curran, these are guys who can single handedly turn the match around.
I did mention New Zealand. They were last World Cup's runner up and again a very strong team. Pakistan, of course, I think they've gone off the boil a little, but they have to get back on the rails quickly. They suffered badly during the Asia Cup. A lot of plans went haywire. Injuries to key players. South Africa, I did mention that they've come along very strongly. Not many people thought South Africa would be a serious threat, even about two months back. But now they are emerging as a serious threat because they just seem to have found the momentum and some important players.
India will start favourites, and then along in that top four or five clusters will be Australia, England, New Zealand. Pakistan. I would say yes, because they're also very familiar with subcontinent conditions. But they have to get their players back, the injured players, and find the psychological boost that they need right now to come good.
And also, actually so this will be my last point. So it is happening on home turf this time around.
Again, it's happening on home turf for India because the tournament is being played entirely in India.
So the pressure is going to be high on the Indian team.
Definitely. Definitely. The support will be high and the pressure will be higher