Pool B: World champions India face tough task defending title

In this handout photo provided by SDP Media, members of the Indian cricket team Umesh Yadav, Rohit Sharma, R Jadeja, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, R Ashwin are seen during the unveiling of the Indian team one-day international kit at Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne, Australia. (Getty)

Loaded with free-stroking batsmen but missing match-winning bowlers, Mahendra Singh Dhoni's India will look to chase down - rather than defend - the World Cup title they won four years ago.

In Rohit Sharma, the only batsman with two 200s in one-day internationals, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina and the explosive Dhoni, India possess destructive batting firepower.

But the frail bowling attack remains a worry, as was evident during the recent Test series in Australia where the hosts piled up 500-plus totals in each of the four matches during a 2-0 win.

Former captain Sunil Gavaskar lashed out at the present set of seamers comprising Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav, saying India needed to unearth new bowlers.

"You can't keep them going because they have done nothing in the past few years," Gavaskar said.

"They are not penetrative enough and it did not look as if they wanted to take 20 wickets."

The same seam attack will feature in the World Cup alongside three frontline spinners in off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and left-armers Ravindra Jadeja and young Akshar Patel.

"Big totals are needed to win," India's first World Cup-winning captain Kapil Dev told AFP.

"We will be better off chasing targets rather than giving bowlers a target to defend."

India won the title under Dhoni in 2011 with an experienced squad that included seasoned campaigners like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh.

The present squad has just four players -- Dhoni, Kohli, Raina and Ashwin -- who were part of that winning combination, leaving the team short of World Cup experience.

The nucleus of the squad is the same which helped India win the Champions Trophy one-day tournament in England in 2013, but a power-packed batting display is needed to succeed again.

Rohit Sharma, who followed his one-day 209 against Australia in 2013 with a scintillating world record score of 264 against the West Indies last year, is expected to fire at the top of the order despite a poor Test series.

Kohli, recently appointed Test captain after Dhoni quit the longer format, is one of the finest batsmen in the modern game with 21 one-day centuries in the last five years, a testimony of his hunger for big scores.

Dhoni, the peg around whom India's fortunes will revolve, is a leader and batsman tailor-made for limited-overs cricket whose improvised big-hitting has won many a battle for India.

But the current tour of Australia resembles the one in 1992 when Mohammad Azharuddin's men were thrashed 4-0 in the Test series, lost out in the tri-series also featuring the West Indies and failed to make the knock-out cut in the World Cup.

This time, Dhoni's team have lost the Tests and are in danger of missing the tri-series final, indicating an over-exposure to Australian conditions could again prove detrimental.

But a win over Pakistan in their first match in Adelaide on February 15 - India have never lost to their arch-rivals in the World Cup -- will be the tonic Dhoni needs to revitalise the side.

Factfile:

Squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Akshar Patel, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Stuart Binny.

Coach: Duncan Fletcher

Fixtures - Pool B:

Feb 15: Pakistan, Adelaide
Feb 22: South Africa, Melbourne
Feb 28: United Arab Emirates, Perth
Mar 6: West Indies, Perth
Mar 10: Ireland, Hamilton
Mar 14: Zimbabwe, Auckland

World Cup record:

1975: First round
1979: First round
1983: Champions
1987: Semi-finals
1992: First round
1996: Semi-finals
1999: Super Sixes
2003: Runners-up
2007: First round
2011: Champions

Key player:

Virat Kohli


The brash, arrogant youngster has matured into one of the most devastating batsmen in modern cricket and a key component of India's World Cup campaign.

The 26-year-old smashed four centuries in the Border-Gavaskar Test series in Australia, where he also scored his first Test century on the previous visit in 2011.

In his outstanding 146-match one-day career, Kohli has already struck 21 hundreds and 33 half-centuries. One of his best one-day knocks was played in Adelaide when he hammered an astonishing 133 not out off 86 balls against Sri Lanka to help India chase down 321 in under 40 overs.

Now the Test captain after Mahendra Singh Dhoni's retirement from the longer format, Kohli will plot India's strategy as Dhoni's deputy at the World Cup.

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