By Radhika Bhirani
India’s performance in the forthcoming Australia tour will significantly impact the defending champions’ showing at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, to be jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand, says former Kiwi captain Stephen Fleming, adding Indian batsman Suresh Raina could emerge as the star of the tournament.
“I think India will be okay (at the World Cup). The kind of responsibility the World Cup holds to perform well, I’m sure India will perform, and the small fact that they have wonderful people supporting them,” Fleming, who is the coach of Indian Premier League (IPL) team Chennai Super Kings, said during a tete-a-tete here.
In the run-up to the World Cup, slated to be held Feb 14-March 29, India will tour Australia to play four Tests starting Dec 4-Jan 7. This will be followed by a triangular One-Day International (ODI) series, also involving England.
“India is going to Australia, so they’re going to have three months playing in conditions that are going to be exactly like in the World Cup. That’s an advantage. If they play well in the Australia tour, they’ll need some form and confidence, and they’ll have a good chance (at the World Cup),” Fleming said.
“But if they play poorly in these games, and if they’ll be low on confidence, it will be tough for them to turn around. So, unfortunately, they have got to perform well for four to five months to win the World Cup because these are the games that have relevance with the way they’ll finally play,” added the 41-year-old.
Pointing out to India’s recent performance against England in testing overseas conditions, he said: “What happened when India played badly against England, a lot of pressure mounted on them. And if that pressure is put on India, it’s going to be very hard for them to play well in the World Cup.”
“So, there’s a lot of emphasis on the first part of the tour of Australia. Whoever plays well, will be on an advantage.”
Fleming feels CSK batsman Suresh Raina, whose performance abroad has been questioned time and again, will surprise fans.
While backing the aggressive left-hander, the former New Zealand skipper said: “I think he’s becoming a better player everyday. So, I would expect him to have a big World Cup. Because they’re (Indians are) going to have time in Australia to adjust, I have no doubts that Suresh Raina could be the star of the World Cup.”
Fleming is in the country as part a business delegation from New Zealand to Delhi and Mumbai to further strengthen trade ties ahead of the mega-sporting event.
He considers his association with India “close” and hopes that fans show some, if not equal enthusiasm, in supporting their team with their presence in New Zealand.
“I hope people come. Many cricket fans come and support the team here in India, but the challenge is – can they come and support them somewhere else?” said Fleming, who spends three to four months in India, and is in awe of the “noise” Indian cricket aficionados are capable of making in stadiums.
Fleming is confident that Indian fans will have a “great time” in New Zealand, where India will play two games — against Ireland in Hamilton March 10 and against Zimbabwe in Auckland March 14.
They may also play their quarter-final or semi-final in the country.
Australia and New Zealand last hosted the cricket World Cup together in 1992, when Pakistan won the coveted trophy.
This time, the former New Zealand opener feels South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, West Indies, India and Pakistan are strong contenders for World Cup, which will see 14 teams vying for the trophy.
“Every team can win the World Cup, that’s why the game is so exciting. But to break it up a bit — if you look at India and Sri Lanka, who hosted the last time, they got to the final. So, using that myth, New Zealand and Australia should make it to the final,” he quipped.