In 1983, bookmakers gave odds of 500-1 on the Indian cricket team winning the World Cup. This time around, British bookie Ladbrokes has installed India as the favourite and is offering 3-1 odds. One unidentified gambler abroad – it is not even clear if he is an Indian – is so convinced about India’s success he has wagered a huge £82,000 (over $150,000) on India winning the cup, starting today with India playing Bangladesh. If the bet pays off, Ladbrokes will have to pay out £246,000.
It is a leap of faith the rest of us in India are not taking right now. The reason is understandable nervousness – a lot of it. Even if India as a nation, and India as a cricketing team, has come a long way, such overriding confidence, or cockiness perhaps, is foreign to our psyche. It is an approach that might be wiser too, given one-day cricket’s slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
The Hindu daily’s cricket correspondent, for example, declared yesterday that this is a World Cup “with no clear favourite.” Sachin Tendulkar, who may be playing his last World Cup, has stopped discussing the team’s chances. Former Pakistani captain Imran Khan is blaming the media for pressuring the Indian team and “Captain Cool” Mahendra Dhoni is, well, cool. If you lose there is pressure, if you win there is pressure, he retorted on the eve of the cup.
In 1987, when India and Pakistan co-hosted the cup, both the teams were considered joint favourites and many fancied an India-Pakistan final at the Eden Gardens. It didn’t quite happen that way. Kapil Dev’s Indian team was knocked out in the semifinal by England, amid pressure and a serious error in strategy that let opener Graham Gooch sweep his way to a century. Pakistan, also unable to perform under huge expectations, was defeated by Australia. Eventually, Allan Border’s Australian, rank outsiders, lifted the cup.
It is a long tournament in which anything can happen. India would have done extraordinarily well if it got into Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium for the final on April 2.