Cricket: Discount vibrant India at your peril

India's Virat Kohli (right) celebrates with teammates after they won their Cricket World Cup...
India's Virat Kohli (right) celebrates with teammates after they won their Cricket World Cup match against South Africa at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Photo by Reuters
India's vibrant performance in cleaning up South Africa in Melbourne on Sunday night has doubtless rejigged the betting markets for the World Cup.

Where, before then, the money talking loudest would have been on Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, you'd imagine plenty of flutters have gone on the defending champions. If you're looking for a subcontinental winner, right now it can only be India.

Sri Lanka have been ordinary and at 18 for three, then 178 for six, chasing 233 against Afghanistan in Dunedin on Sunday the associate dream was within reach.

Imagine. The Afghanistan team, in only their second cup game, dumping the beaten finalists from the past two tournaments.

For all that the Irish rightly insist their win over the West Indies was no boilover, this would still have constituted a massive second step for associate cricket at this cup.

It would also have had the Sri Lankans nervously fingering their passports. Who'd have thought? As it happened Afghanistan botched a couple of runouts and Thisara Perera hit the Sri Lankans home.

So winning chances? You'd think not the way they're playing now, for all that Mahela Jayawardene has found form and Lasith Malinga will get better the longer Sri Lanka stay alive.

Ditto Pakistan, who are all over the shop. Sniping is coming from home, and from former players you'd think would know better. We've seen Pakistan fight their way out of a large cup jam before -- in this neck of the woods as it happens.

However that Pakistani side of 1992 had far better players than Misbah-ul-Haq's lacklustre mob.

Which leaves India. They won in England in 1983 and at home four years ago.

Seeing off Pakistan comfortably in an opening game in Adelaide loaded with the usual pressures of that neighbourly set-to is one thing. But South Africa, by a belting 130 runs, was a different story. It was a fair old thumping all round.

Their batting is brimful of attacking talent, the bowling has been impressive and the fielding is generally tidy. The issue around India's hopes pre-cup was whether they had the wherewithal to win in countries where their most recent experiences have been grim.

New Zealand beat them 1-0 on their test visit last summer and duffed them 4-0 in the ODI series. Their travails in Australia are well known.

But they have started the cup in assertive fashion. India were energetic, skilful and well up for the job.

Next up they have the United Arab Emirates and the West Indies in a Perth double before heading to New Zealand to finish pool play against Ireland in Hamilton and Zimbabwe at Eden Park.

Their hard challenges are behind them and they're in solid shape. Discount them at your peril.

By David Leggat of the New Zealand Herald

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