These are early days in the ICC World Cup 2019 for anyone to ask the question who among the ten nations competing is the mightiest of the lot. But there has been enough excitement already, a touch of brilliance here and there and a suggestion of controversy too to complete the story so far. From India's point of view, it has been good going thus far, two wins in as many matches make for a satisfying start for a campaign with a huge burden of home expectations attached. If the win over South Africa was cleverly crafted then against Australia, India made a statement of sorts. After the ODI series loss earlier in India, this win must have been like a soothing balm and what is creditable is that the win had come against a strengthened Australia which had now the services of Steve Smith and David Warner after the two had served the one-year ban over the ball tampering controversy.
Indeed, what is the point in claiming India had sent its best possible combination to this prestigious event when performance do not match. That way what happened at the Oval in London was performance at par with optimism all round. For what was tested was not just batting against top draw bowling but sharp fielding where run getting required quite a bit of skill to find the gaps or hit over the ropes. In this setting there was a certainty in what Shikhar Dawan and Virat Kohli did with the bat as they worked their way to sizeable scores, the former even helping himself to a ton (only the second batsman after the great Vivian Richards to score four ODI tons in England). Much had been said of Hardik Pandya's all round ability and more importantly his clean hitting. Kohli reposed faith in him and promoted him in the batting order. Pandya showed his skill with a quick fire innings that had big hits to the ropes and a few times over too. If the batting did the bit, then India did not slack in the bowling and contained the feared opponents effectively. In short what the victory meant for India was the success of an all round efficiency, something that is the key to big moments.
As said earlier these are still warming up stage. There are many more matches to be won to firm up the chances and there are still opponents who can be just as tricky. As England, considered the top favourite this time, showed a slice of brilliance or batting strength need not guarantee victory. The way it lost to Pakistan exposed that. Here was the host which had in Ben Stokes a player par excellence. His one handed acrobatic catch earlier in the match against South Africa had already been touted as the best ever in cricket history. But on that day despite Jos Buttler and Joe Root scoring centuries, England could not overhaul the rival's 348 run target after coming close. Such things happen and surely in the days to come more close matches would follow, shocks and surprises too. After all it is not the team's reputation alone that matters but the day's performance. Recall how India showed this in 1983 when against all odds it beat the mighty West Indies in the final in a low scoring match to win its first World Cup!
Looking back, it is just as well that India returned winner against Australia for the team was unnecessarily under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons thanks to M.S. Dhoni sporting that insignia on his wicket keeping gloves. The team has now done its bit to bring the focus back to cricketing abilities! Indeed, how such a small sticker could create a storm in the first place in itself is a wonder. But this is cricketing rule and ICC is clear that nothing, even a speck on the players' gear that had nothing to do with the event could be sported. So Dhoni was stumped there, wittingly or unwittingly but really did this call for such a debate? True personal feelings or likings cannot be displayed so overtly but who would have thought that such a small sign that hardly conveyed anything until it was raked up with such ferocity, could take the form for a fully blown controversy! Critics have been unsparing and one of them even felt that for someone who has such big experience of playing several World Cups could have been blind to ICC stipulations! As the great English poet Alexander Pope said in his 'An essay on criticism ', “to err is human, to forgive is divine”. The same should hold in the case of Dhoni or for that matter any individual.
Happily, that phase is over and it is time that the Indian cricketers settled down to business. There are tougher tasks ahead and may be, just maybe, the hero of India's 2011 triumph Dhoni himself would show the way or play a key role for another memorable Indian outing in this edition.