New Delhi: Rohit Sharma’s India face “humongous” expectations from fans in their cricket-crazy nation to end a world title drought by winning the World Cup at home.
India’s last major title was the 2013 Champions Trophy, which came after Mahendra Singh Dhoni lifted the 2011 World Cup in Mumbai.
The 50-over marquee tournament opens on October 5 and, with the last two editions won by the then hosts — Australia in 2015 and England in 2019 — the nation of 1.4 billion dreams again.
Veteran sports journalist Ayaz Memon said it is tough to predict a winner for the 10-team tournament predicting a “very interesting and close contest,” but that the hosts, fresh from winning the Asia Cup, remain one of the favorites.
“Fan expectations are humongous,” said Memon, who witnessed India’s first-ever World Cup triumph under Kapil Dev 40 years ago.
“We have had disappointments and heartbreaks because we lost the semifinals both times — 2015 and 2019. A strong sense of expectations from this team because the team looks very good on paper.”
India will begin their campaign against Australia on October 8 followed by a hotly-anticipated clash against arch-rivals Pakistan at the world’s biggest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad.
A match involving India, which has superstars including Virat Kohli and Rohit, draws millions of fans and is a winner for the broadcasters and sponsors.
“With this particular World Cup we think we have a fantastic chance because India playing at home are a tough side to beat,” Rakesh Patel, founder of the popular fan group “Bharat Army,” told AFP.
“And we think it’s our time to win a World Cup again.”
Supporters, who travel vast distances across India to watch their stars live, expect nothing short of a title win for the number-one ranked team.
“We are very excited,” said Patel, who is traveling from London to see his team.
“Going into this World Cup, if you look at our performances against Australia and recently the Asia Cup, we have a batting line-up which is very well settled.”
India’s obsession with cricket began in 1983 when Dev’s underdogs stunned the West Indies in the final at Lord’s and suddenly the sport had many takers, including sponsors.
Twenty-eight years later, Dhoni’s winning six against Sri Lanka to win the crown at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium triggered a nationwide celebration in what turned out to be cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar’s last World Cup.
Spinner HarbHajjan Singh said the night of that win remains the most special moment of his life, and hopes for another Indian victory in this year’s final on November 19 in Ahmedabad.
“The night of the win was the best ever night of my life so far. It was a dream realized with the World Cup trophy in your hand,” HarbHajjan told Star Sports.
“For the first time we saw Sachin Tendulkar dancing. I hope it gets repeated this time in Ahmedabad.”
But former Pakistan speedster Shoaib Akhtar said India will have to overcome the pressure from millions of fans to come up trumps, and said a dream final would be against Pakistan.
“India will be playing in front of their crowd at home and the match will be broadcast around the world,” Akhtar told Star Sports.
“All this pressure will be on India not on us (Pakistan). If India comes out of this pressure to win the World Cup in India against Pakistan, then the galaxy is the limit for the Indian team.”