India took the first step towards their dream of winning the one-day World Cup for the third time by entering the semifinals at Birmingham on Tuesday. By winning their sixth match in the 10-team league, the Virat Kohli-led team collected 13 points from seven matches to assure themselves of the last four spots. Billed as favourites along with hosts England, India had put up a good performance before they were derailed by the hosts. It was a setback of sorts and that loss gave life to England, who were on the brink of elimination. The Men in Blue bounced back splendidly with a spirited show against doughty Bangladesh to get back their winning mojo. India have one more match, an inconsequent one, to play against Sri Lanka on Saturday. In all probability, they could finish second or third in the table as their match against New Zealand was abandoned and also their loss to England could see them end up one point less than Australia, provided they win the last league match against South Africa. But the stage has been set for India to take the final strides for reaching the pinnacle of glory. For coach Ravi Shastri and captain Kohli, it’s been a mission that began two years ago. India have been clinical and methodical in their performances so far though they suffered injury blows when left-handed opener Shikhar Dhawan had to end his campaign abruptly because of a fracture to his left thumb. Last week, ‘3D’ player Vijay Shankar, too, had to limp out of the tournament as a Jasprit Bumrah yorker fractured his toe. They were replaced by Rishabh Pant and then opener Mayank Agarwal. But this raised a few eyebrows as Hyderabad’s Ambati Rayudu was the first standby.
India are riding high on some eye-catching performances from four players — Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Bumrah and Mohammad Shami. Sharma, who has become the mainstay of Indian batting, struck four centuries. With three more matches to go, he could break Kumar Sangakkara’s record World Cup. Kohli has sparkled as captain and as a batsman with five successive half-centuries though a big knock is due. But the same cannot be said of the brittle middle order. The team is relying too much on Sharma and Kohli’s exploits. which could be a weak point. The No. 4 spot has yet to be cemented. But all-rounder Hardik Pandya has risen to the occasion. Mahendra Singh Dhoni has received flak for his ‘slow’ batting. Bumrah has been outstanding with the ball. Like a true fast bowler, he is ripping the opposition apart while Shami has been incisive. As the World Cup is drawing to a close, India’s chances seem bright for yet another moment of triumph. It is all about holding the nerves in the end.