Rohit Sharma, one of the most revered cricketers of his generation, would carry the audible expectations of a billion people when his Indian team starts its high-stakes World Cup campaign against Australia in Chennai on October 8.
For the sports aficionados, the Asian Games campaign with 100-plus medals was a juicy appetiser and they are bracing up for exotic main course from country’s most followed sports team.
Led by a genial Pat Cummins, Australia are a tough yet likable bunch, who are ready for a good scrap at the Chepauk where both the teams have had some epic battles in the past be it the tied Test of 1986 or the close Reliance Cup game the next year or the 2001 Test series-decider.
If India’s batting is world class, Australia’s pace attack is top notch but does it have the legs to survive the cruel Chennai heat will be a million-dollar question.
There are 15 different men, with different shades of character coming together for a common cause. A skipper, who at 36, knows that his legacy will be defined by whether he holds aloft the coveted Cup on November 19th.
Then there is near 35-year-old Virat Kohli, arguably the best all-format batter of his generation. He needs three more centuries to get past iconic Sachin Tendulkar the man he had carried on his shoulders on a beautiful Wankhede night 12 summers back.
After 12 seasons, Kohli is standing at the cusp of where Tendulkar stood in 2011. The only difference is Kohli has one World Cup in his kitty. So does Rohit (2007 World T20) and 37-year-old Ravichandran Ashwin (2011).
But those were trophies where the narratives were set by others and these juniors played their part to the ‘T’.
But this edition is their edition. Rohit wants to own this stage. So does Kohli and Ashwin. A 34-year-old Ravindra Jadeja or a 33-year-old Mohammed Shami do not want to be left behind. Or a Jasprit Bumrah, who would like it to be ‘Now or Never’.
Most of them might not play another World Cup in four years’ time and even if one (likely Kohli with his fitness) remains available for the next edition in 2027, one never knows whether the format will remain relevant and appealing to younger generation.
This bunch is high on talent and feisty quotient and wouldn’t want to be tragic heroes.
An Indian World Cup triumph might just save ODI cricket from dying a slow death. The format is virtually on ventilator.
Rohit himself knows what the stakes are. His body language will hardly give away anything about what’s there on his mind. He has been an adept general, who commands dressing room respect, the validation that every leader craves for.
There will be three aspects that he would have to deal with – batter Rohit, who will have to take the aggressive route with his pull shots in Powerplay.
Secondly, the tactician Rohit, who needs to decide when he would want his third specialist spinner Ashwin in operation.
And on which tracks, Suryakumar Yadav could be a more potent option with his 360 degree repertoire compared to a more orthodox Shreyas Iyer.
Last but not the least, the leader who will put an arm around a Shardul Thakur, as and when he plays and gets clobbered in certain situations because the man has happy knack of picking wickets. Tell an Ishan Kishan to just be fearless against Mitchell Starc first up.
May be using the faster deliveries of Ravindra Jadeja against a Marcus Stoinis, who is susceptible on the backfoot.
The match against Australia will be more fascinating because Rohit will be tested tactically against a side that will bat deep. Glenn Maxwell’s off-breaks along with Adam Zampa’s success against Indian top order puts them on an even keel.
How Indian spinners bowl in the middle overs on a Chepauk surface that will have turn and grip on offer will be key to India’s fate.
At Chepauk, India have won seven out of 14 ODIs with six defeats and one game abandoned. Australia have in fact won five out of their six ODIs at this venue.
There are no favourites in this match. Let the ‘Cup of Hope’ turn into ‘Cup of Joy’ for India.
India: Rohit Sharma (captain), Ishan Kishan, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami, Suryakumar Yadav, Shubman Gill, Shardul Thakur.
Australia: Pat Cummins (c), Steve Smith, Alex Carey, Josh Inglis, Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Mitch Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, David Warner, Adam Zampa, Mitchell Starc.
Match starts: 2:00 pm.