With the national game embroiled in corruption allegations and national team supposedly in transition, India’s cricketers arrived at the Champions Trophy as the world’s top-ranked one-day side but with few giving them a chance.
However, just like Italy’s football team emerged from adversity and scandal at home to win World Cups in 1982 and 2006, India’s new-look class of 2013 is proving a resilient bunch.
Heading into Sunday’s final against Trophy hosts England, the Indians have won four from four, their bowlers relishing unfamiliar English conditions and opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan becoming the star of the tournament.
The era of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag will long be revered but their replacements have signalled over the past two weeks that the future can be bright without them.
Only three players – Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and captain MS Dhoni – played in India’s victory over Sri Lanka in the World Cup final in 2011 and will likely turn out against the English at Edgbaston, but the inexperience isn’t showing.
“If we can bowl to our field and play to our strengths, we will do well against any team,” India paceman Ishant Sharma said.
“We have not been under pressure in this tournament so far and we really don’t know where our real weaknesses lie.
“We’ll stick to the plans and we’ll stick to our strengths, just carry on doing the same thing in the final.”
While the tourists have been playing against the backdrop of a spot-fixing scandal involving players and officials in the Indian Premier League, England’s Champions Trophy campaign is being seen by supporters as merely a taster ahead of the real business of this summer – the Ashes series.
At least in public, England’s players aren’t seeing it that way.
An England team has never won a world 50-over event, having lost in the finals of both the World Cup and the Champions Trophy over the past two decades. The Ashes can wait for one more weekend.
“The past is the past, and we can’t change anything about it. So there is no point worrying about it,” said England wicketkeeper Jos Buttler.
“This is a great chance to right those wrongs.”
If the hosts are to break their 50-over tournament drought, they will need a brilliant bowling performance from James Anderson and company in Birmingham.
Dhawan has emerged from the shadows of Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir and been a revelation, scoring a tournament-high 332 runs in four innings.
That included centuries in group matches against South Africa and West Indies and a 68 in the semifinal victory over Sri Lanka on Thursday.
Even if he fails, with Kohli, Dinesh Karthik, Raina and Dhoni to follow in the batting lineup, India won’t be concerned.
In the absence of Kevin Pietersen, the English haven’t been as fluent with the bat – the team hasn’t reached 300 yet – but Jonathan Trott is the third highest run-scorer in the tournament and is always a steadying influence at No.3 in the order. despite his critics in the English media.
“I think the most important thing is winning cricket matches – that’s all I try and do, be part of a winning team,” said Trott, who will be playing at the ground of his county team Warwickshire.
“The England team as long as I’ve been playing, nearly four years, has been on an upward angle and I’m really happy to see that.”