The way India struggled in the Test series in Australia and, more pertinently in the tri-series that followed, who would have imagined that they would go into the final league game against Zimbabwe at Auckland, having been unbeaten in the tournament. There was wide consensus that the Indians would struggle against the top sides, somehow overcome the minnows and book their place in the quarter-finals before bowing out. But, look where India are now. They have comprehensively beaten Pakistan, South Africa, UAE and Ireland and were only tested in a low-scoring encounter against West Indies. Their target against Zimbabwe would definitely be to achieve another win, and increased their unbeaten World Cup streak to 10.
The news from Auckland is that India are not keen on making an changes to the match-winning eleven, which means the likes of Stuart Binny, Akshar Patel and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are not likely to get a look in. India's mindset over not changing the winning combination is understandable since they do not want to tinker around with what has worked so well for them. But, they would do well to give someone like Ravindra Jadeja much-needed batting practice. He has been the only one from the seven batsman, who has struggled with the bat. Although, he has chipped in with the ball and in the field, it is imperative he gets some runs before the knockouts.
India's batting has been in excellent form right through the World Cup, but they would hope to be tested a bit. Shikhar Dhawan, rather surprisingly, it can be said, following his poor Australia tour, has been the standout performer for Team India. With two hundreds, including one against Ireland in the previous game, he has been India's best batsman by some distance, and would look to continue his good form. His opening partner Rohit Sharma has got a couple of half-centuries, but he would like a big score against a Test nation. Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane have been in excellent form at 3 and 4. As for Suresh Raina, he began the World Cup with a whirlwind knock, but hasn't had to do much since, and would be keen for a hit.
India's bowling has surprised opponents for sure. The Indian went into the World Cup extremely worried over how they would perform in the bowling department. But, the three pacers who have featured consistently for India have made a significant impression. The line and length of Umesh Yadav, Mohammad Shami and Mohit Sharma was impeccable in Australia, when they kept it short of a length, and forced mistakes out of batsmen. However, Ireland posed them some questions with their attractive batting in India's first match in New Zealand. It remains to be seen whether they have learnt their lessons. As for the spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin has been simply brilliant, well supported by Suresh Raina.
Zimbabwe have been dealt with a big blow prior to their India clash. Brendan Taylor, one of their best batsmen, and the former skipper, would be heading to Kolpak for three years leaving behind his Zimbabwe career. The news will certainly be playing on team's minds as they take the field at Auckland. Taylor himself would be hoping to sign off on a high. The injury to their captain Elton Chigumbura has been another distraction. Aa for their on-field performance, Sean Williams has been standout with the bat, well supported by Crain Ervine in a couple of games. With the ball, Tendai Chatara and Tinashe Panyangara have impressed, but as a whole Zimbabwe have been disappointing. They would like to bow out with a fighting show, reminiscent of their 90s days.
--By A Cricket Analyst