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By Partab Ramchand
India’s traditional strength has always been their batting be it in Test cricket or the limited overs game. While bowlers win matches might be one of the oldest cricketing clichés in Indian cricket the large totals the batsmen have frequently run up have covered up for the rather thin bowling resources. A couple of years ago a grateful Anil Kumble admitted that the bowlers’ task was made simpler by the batsmen giving them big totals to back them up.
With just under 120 days to go for the first match of the World Cup – Bangladesh and India square off in the opener on February 19 – the chief focus will be on the Indian batting for all the gallant deeds that the bowlers may come up with. It will again be hoped that they again live up to their lofty reputation and give the bowlers breathing space. The bowling line-up will certainly need it for to be candid it does not appear to have the incisiveness to churn out victories on its own.
This is where the selection of the batsmen becomes so important. If one examines the record of the Indian team in the 1996, 1999 and 2003 World Cup competitions it can be seen that it was the batting that shaped the victories and when the batting occasionally came a cropper the bowling was far too weak to cover up. I am discounting the 2007 campaign for it ended too quickly to invite any analysis.
A look at the World Cup records clearly illustrates the aura surrounding the Indian batting. In 1996 Sachin Tendulkar with 523 runs was the leading run getter. He repeated the feat in 2003 with a tally of 673 runs. In 1999 Rahul Dravid (461) and Sourav Ganguly (379) finished first and third in the list of leading run getters. Four years later Ganguly became the first batsman to hit three hundreds in a single tournament and with four centuries in all shares the record with Tendulkar, Mark Waugh and Ricky Ponting.
With his overall tally of 1796 runs spread over five editions Tendulkar is way ahead of the competition and his average of almost 58 is second only to Vivian Richards’ 63.31. As many as three Indians figure among the ten highest individual scores in the World Cup – Ganguly (183), Kapil Dev (175 not out) and Tendulkar (152). Three Indian duos figure among the ten partnership records – Ganguly and Dravid with 318 for the second wicket in 1999, Dravid and Tendulkar with 237 (unbroken) in 1999 and Kapil and Syed Kirmani with 126 (unbroken) in 1983. To complete the healthy picture India’s 413 for five against Bermuda in 2007 is the highest total in the World Cup while the 373 for six against Sri Lanka in 1999 is in fourth place.
By contrast the bowlers hardly figure in the records section. Only two Indians Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble figure in the list of top 12 wicket takers. Ashish Nehra’s six for 23 against England in 2003 is the fifth best individual performance while Chetan Sharma is one of five bowlers to have performed the hat trick.
Fortunately this time too the Indian batting does wear a lustrous look. It is largely due to the batting that the Indian team is in second place in the ODI rankings. And it is heartening to note that the batting will be manned by the likes of Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and skipper MS Dhoni – all certainties or near certainties. Playing in the sub continent will hopefully be a plus point which they must take advantage of even as they put the disappointments of 1987 and 1996 – India were eliminated at the semifinal stage both times – behind them. Of course if the unheralded bowling line-up is able to come up with something special – like Roger Binny and Madan Lal in 1983 - it will constitute a pleasant surprise.