Following all the glitz and glory of the Indian Premier League (IPL) now it is time to shift our focus towards this years’ most important global cricketing event — the ICC Champions Trophy, which is starting from June 1 at the Oval in London.
If we look at the history of the tournament, we can find that current defending champions, India, have had a pretty mixed fortune. They have played the tournament in all the previous seven editions, finishing on top twice while ending runners-up once and as Virat Kohli’s men arrive in England, expectations levels are once again quite high.
Currently, ranked number two in ODI rankings, the Indian team has been identified as one of the red hot favourites for the event along with host England and current world champions, Australia. Experts like Nasser Hussain and Sourav Ganguly even believe India have the most balanced squad amongst all eight teams.
Power packed batting with quality bowling options
One can always expect an Indian team to have a power-packed batting line-up, especially while participating in a big-ticket event and this team is no exception.
The batting department is being looked after by some of the contemporary stalwarts of limited overs cricket like Kohli, MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. We know what damage these players can cause to the opposition bowling.
Apart from them, there are more quality options like Ajinkya Rahane, Kedar Jadhav, and Dinesh Karthik, who replaced injured Manish Pandey at the last moment.
With the inclusion of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and young Hardik Pandya, the all-rounder’s list is also looking quite impressive. The Champions Trophy will be some sort of a comeback for Ashwin as he did not feature in the IPL due to an injury.
However, along with this star-studded batting line-up, the most impressive fact about this Indian team, is their immense potential in the bowling department.
Amongst the pacers, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah were the two best bowlers on display in the IPL. With 26 wickets in 14 matches, Bhuvi ended up as the highest wicket-taker in the event, whereas Bumrah finished third with 20 scalps in 16 games. The duo had exceptional outings with both the new and old ball. Especially at the death, they showed immense maturity to restrict the opposition batters.
Now the challenge for them is to carry this T20 form in the 50-over format.
Along with them, Kohli will also rely on the experienced Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav, who had a phenomenal home season with the Test team.
The spin department will be well looked after by the ever dependable Ashwin-Jadeja pair. Though it is early Summer in England and wickets won’t assist the spinners much but India can expect their spinners to get a grip of the opposition batsmen through their variety and quality.
Overall, this bowling attack is looking as one of the most settled bowling units in the tournament and mind it, we don’t often say this about an Indian bowling unit.
This India team has variety and depth in all three departments and this is going to be their biggest plus point in England.
Lack of 50-over exposure in recent time
Of late, the Men in Blue haven’t played much international white-ball cricket, courtesy to their landmark 13-Test home season. The three-match series against England in January was their last ODI assignment. Meanwhile, despite this, Kohli, who is going to lead the country in his first ever major global limited-overs event, believes, this time India are well equipped to defend their title.
“I am very excited to be playing as captain in my first major ICC competition,” the Indian skipper said in his pre-tournament press meet, just after arriving in London on Thursday (May 25).
“As far as the team goes, we won last time  because our fast bowlers did very well, our spinners were strong and our opening batsman did well.
“They were the main three factors. This year the team is a lot fitter, the cricketers are a lot more mature because that was a very young group four years ago. It has gained a lot of experience in the last three or four years.”
Almost all the Indian cricketers in the current squad, have been a regular feature in their respective IPL teams and the 28-year old skipper feels any time in the middle, irrespective of the format can be helpful for a cricketer.
“I don’t think you can have too much similarity in both formats [T20 and 50-over]. [But] from getting some game time, it helps a lot of people in staying in the zone of being match ready, to say the least,” Kohli recently mentioned this in a chat with media in Mumbai.
“It is different for different people. Some people cannot connect the two formats at all, some people take the bits and pieces and put them into place in all three formats. Just being match fit, just having the rhythm of bowling, the flow of batting, just the mental set-up of scoring runs in tough situations are something you can carry forward to all the formats.
“IPL being the highly competitive tournament, it allows you to be in that zone when you play world-class players from all the teams. I think those could be the most competitive games you could be part of before something like Champions Trophy.”
India will begin their campaign with the much-awaited encounter against arch-rival Pakistan on June 4 at Birmingham.