On the cusp of creating World Cup history, a supremely confident India will aim to crush a gutsy Ireland in their penultimate group encounter of the ICC cricket World Cup, in Hamilton on Tuesday.
Having already qualified for the quarterfinals with four commanding wins, the defending champions are eyeing their fifth straight win in the tournament.
If India happens to win on Tuesday, it will create a new World Cup record of winning nine straight matches at the global event, starting from their win against the West Indies in Chennai during the 2011 edition.
Their win against the Caribbeans in the previous match at Perth was their eighth successive win and that had equalled Sourav Ganguly’s team’s successful run during the 2003 edition in South Africa.
It will be another David vs Goliath contest where India will be looking to maintain their supremacy over Ireland, who are seeking fourth spot in Pool B to make the quarterfinal grade.
The last time India met Ireland was in Bangalore during the last edition of the World Cup, where the hosts comfortably beat their opponents by five wickets as Yuvraj Singh emerged as the star performer with a ‘five-for’ and a half-century.
Such has been the impact created by the Mohammed Shamis and the Ravichandran Ashwins that none of the opposition team’s batsmen have been able to post a total of 250 in the competition.
The tournament till now has been all about the resurgence of India’s bowling unit which has taken 37 wickets amongst themselves in the four matches. If one takes out Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s single wicket effort against UAE, the other five have shared the 36 among them.
While Ravichandran Ashwin and Mohammed Shami with nine wickets apiece have been the two prime performers, Umesh Yadav, Mohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja with six scalps apiece have done their job with equal efficiency and sincerity.
One small piece of statistic will be testimony to the kind of influence the bowlers have had in the ongoing tournament, one should sample the economy rate of the five-pronged bowling attack.
The ‘worst’ economy rate, if one dare to say so, is that of left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, whose economy rate has been a very decent 4.51 runs per over.
The normally profligate Umesh Yadav, often accused for leaking runs and being inconsistent, has been fantastic upfront with an economy rate of 4.33.
Mohammed Shami, who has hit the best length among the Indian speedsters has given away only 100 runs in the 25 overs across three matches at a flat economy rate of flat 4 runs per over.
Most of the teams have failed to read Ashwin’s off-breaks and the carom balls and the mean economy rate of 3.91 is a testimony to that.
But over and above everyone else is the young Haryana boy Mohit Sharma, who with his economy rate of 3.90 has been the ‘Find of the Tournament’ as far as India is concerned.
It will however be a test for the Indian bowlers at the short Seddon Park ground, where the side boundaries are barely 60 metres, something that the Indian batsmen won’t mind.
With Mahendra Singh Dhoni anchoring the tricky chase in the last game against West Indies, all the top seven have now got at least one good innings under their belt.
Shikhar Dhawan will like to get a good hit against Ireland on what promises to be a belter of a track. After two good knocks of 77 and 137 against Pakistan and South Africa, Dhawan went a bit off the boil with low scores against UAE and the West Indies.
With not-so-great Irish attack in-front of him, the Delhi lad will be keen to add on to his 233 runs that he has scored in the tournament so far.
Virat Kohli (219 runs) does not have a single bad game so far as he has got off to starts in all the matches so far with the opening game century against Pakistan setting the tone for the tournament.
Even during the game against West Indies, he scored a polished 33 before playing that ugly pull-shot off Andre Russell’s bowling.
Suresh Raina and Ajinkya Rahane have both got one good innings each but would certainly like to contribute more.
Both looked out of sorts against the Caribbeans at Perth and that is something that they would effectively like to change.
It will also be a chance for Indian batsmen to change their poor track record at the Seddon Park where they have won only two of the eight ODIs and Virender Sehwag’s hundred in 2002-03 is the only three-figure mark achieved by an Indian batsman.
For Ireland, it will be a golden opportunity to make it to the last eight but for that they would have to either beat India tomorrow or Pakistan in the next game which is a tall order.
Ed Joyce, who has played ODIs for England has been their prime performer with 233 runs from four games while Andy Balbirnie with 219 runs hasn’t been far behind.
Their mercurial big-hitter Kevin O’Brien has fired only once in the tournament so far and would ideally like him to do more. Ditto for his brother Niall O’Brien who played a good hand in their shock win over the West Indies.
However the Irish bowling in absence of pacer Boyd Rankin (who played a Test match during last Ashes tour) doesn’t have the necessary firepower to trouble India. It will depend a lot on seamer-all-rounder Alex Cusack (6 wickets) and left-arm spinner George Dockrell (5 wickets) but they don’t have enough experience or guile to stop a formidable Indian batting line-up.
In all, another contest heavily loaded in India’s favour.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohit Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Axar Patel, Ambati Rayudu, Stuart Binny, Bhuvneshwar Kumar
Ireland: William Porterfield (captain), Andy Balbirnie, Paul Stirling, Niall O’Brien, Kevin O’ Brien, Ed Joyce, Peter Chase, Alex Cusack, George Dockrell, John Mooney, Max Sorensen, Stuart Thompson, Gary Wilson, Craig Young Andy McBrine.
Match Starts: 7 am (IST).