India are ready to deal with weight of expectation -
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India are ready to deal with weight of expectation

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Suresh Raina

I am writing this from Delhi and the whole country is excited ahead of India’s first game against Australia on Sunday.

When India are playing at home, we know how much expectation there is but the team must try and play the situation. We won the World Cup here in 2011, Australia won in Australia in 2015 and England won on home soil four years ago. There is a very good opportunity here for India to win the World Cup in front of their own fans and I am confident they can do it.

I have that confidence for several reasons. We have a very good bowling line-up who know how to bowl in the conditions. Ravi Ashwin, who was part of our winning squad in 2011, is now in the squad and adds that experience, and having Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj firing again after their injuries is massive. Our pace attack complements each other well and Bumrah, in particular, is looking sorted now. He has recovered well and he is a very important player in this World Cup.

The ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 Trophy shines bright. 

With the bat, Virat Kohli will anchor the show and look to bat through the overs. We also have a very solid opening pair. Shubman Gill averages over 60 in ODI cricket and Rohit Sharma has scored three double centuries in this format – and hit five centuries at the last World Cup. If the top three can bat 25-30 overs, we can easily put a lot of runs on the board.

Winning the Asia Cup will give the team confidence but the World Cup will bring a different pressure. The whole of India wants India to win this trophy. It is different to 2011, too. Back then, there was nowhere near as much social media. Nowadays, every player has Twitter, Instagram, Facebook – every player will feel that pressure.

But as professional athletes, they have to ignore that and just enjoy the World Cup, enjoy playing in front of these fans and thrive on the support. Diwali is coming and there will be lots of celebrations, so they just need to enjoy each and every game. One mistake can leave you out of a World Cup, especially when you get to the latter stages. They need to be very focused, very mentally strong and enjoy this format.

Sunday’s match in Chennai will be a great game. Australia are five-time champions and are a very strong all-round team. Most of their players have played in the IPL so they know the wickets and the Indian players.

Australia will come hard at India and everybody wants to start well, but it is not always possible. Look at England – they went from looking like they were going to score 340/350 but they kept losing wickets, and New Zealand didn’t have any problems chasing it down. That shows the quality in this World Cup.

On a personal level, any World Cup match between India and Australia brings back memories of the quarter-final in 2011, a game full of pressure. Australia were the holders and the favourites to win it again.

We were chasing 261 and when [MS] Dhoni was out, I joined Yuvraj Singh at 187 for five. We had to dig in, we had to take responsibility and play the ball, not the occasion and that’s what me and Yuvi did. In a quarter-final against the reigning champions, you need to bring your a-game and we delivered.

I remember the stadium being full of fans shouting and screaming and before I went in to bat, I was sitting with Sachin [Tendulkar]. He told me to go out there, take the chase deep, stay calm and breathe. He told me I could do it and I had already played 100 ODIs by that time, so I knew how to play those crucial knocks. I was very calm and composed and I thought ‘let’s do it for India’.

Hopefully, this weekend will bring a similar result but I do think Australia will also compete for the trophy. I see them, New Zealand, England and India as the main challengers – but don’t overlook Afghanistan.

They have spinners who can bowl 30 overs really well so if they can score 260-290, those bowlers can change the game in two overs. They have some good batting all-rounders and they are playing with a purpose, they are a united team who have courage and play with enjoyment. I think they will impress everyone.

This weekend, however, my focus will be on India. I cannot wait to see how this squad take to the challenge and I am expecting a classic between two world-class teams

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