SAME OLD STORY: Sourav Ganguly after losing the Mumbai ODI to EnglandWhat are India’s chances of winning the World Cup? In hockey later this month, not bad at all. In cricket, exactly a year from now – less than zero.Too much time in the sun, you think? Typical hysterical Indian,SAME OLD STORY: Sourav Ganguly after losing the Mumbai ODI to EnglandWhat are India’s chances of winning the World Cup? In hockey later this month, not bad at all. In cricket, exactly a year from now – less than zero.Too much time in the sun, you think? Typical hysterical Indian reaction to the one-day series against England? Most of all, far too early to panic?In fact, not a moment too soon. What England left behind, other than mass depression, were Nasser Hussain’s words, “Put the Indians under pressure and they tend to crack.” Hussain, a curious mix of bottle and whine in India, said it over and over again. Over and over again, the Indians obliged. Leading the one-day series’ 2-1, they let England draw level and leave puffed with “moral” victory.There was deathly silence in the Indian dressing room at Mumbai, when for the third time in a month the Indians cracked while chasing a total more than 250. For a side that is known by the stardust of its batting, India’s performances from 2000 onwards, including nine straight losses in series finals, is like a ticking package: it could merely be a clock marking time or a bomb that rips into Indian hopes at the World Cup in South Africa 2003.Click here to EnlargeSays Indian team coach John Wright: “We have to understand what sort of team will win the cup-a quality fielding team with batting up to No. 8, a high-class batter who can bowl or keep wickets and specialist bowlers who can keep it tight in the slog overs.”Oh dear.advertisementOther teams have identified those personnel, their results from 2000 onwards indicate progress. England lost 13 straight games before beating Zimbabwe 5-0 and coming back from behind against India. New Zealand have beaten Australia three times in their last four games.Among the second-rung teams considered roughly on a par, only the West Indies and the recently rejuvenated Kiwis trail behind India in terms of win percentages. The national side remains a 50-50 team, and one-off sides don’t usually win a World Cup.Twenty-one-over 60 per cent-of 34 Indian defeats from 2000 onwards have come chasing totals. Against England a bunch of young batsmen who were put in front of the headlights of pressure, froze.Captain Sourav Ganguly defended his “inexperienced” batsmen but the brat pack is clearly not ready to seize a situation by the scruff as a matter of habit. Strangely each of them had begun looking like they could.Yuvraj Singh as early as the summer of 2000, Hemang Badani against the Australians and now Dinesh Mongia versus England have all won one-dayers on their own, but cannot produce regular sequels.On the other hand, these cricketers are worth at least a dozen runs in the field each, a skill not to be discounted. But for a team which considers batting as its strength, this is a gaping crack and it must be filled in by the World Cup.Click here to EnlargeWright, who even called chasing the “nemesis” of the Indian team against England, breaks the dilemma down into its working parts, “What we need is some glue: batsmen in the middle who can rotate the strike at about 80 per cent, keep a cool head when it’s time to collect.”After the hunters at the top – Tendulkar, Ganguly, Sehwag – do their job, it’s the gatherers who lose their way. “To be honest, no team likes /to chase,” says Robin Singh, one of the best middle-order finishers and fielders to play for India. “But the first thing is you have to make sure you play safe cricket and run hard, know what you can and cannot do.”It is where England managed to fight back in the one-day series, with an unglamorous and as “inexperienced” a line-up that just put its head down and ran more. In fact, Hussain’s men had a poorer net run rate than India, scored fewer runs in the series and hit lesser boundaries.The reason they won tight games: fewer “dot” balls (those off which runs are not scored), more singles, more twos, almost double the number of threes. Even the three hunters at the top were guilty of fuzzy logic when the field spread and their boundaries got fewer.There is a case for even moving one of the three-Tendulkar, even-to the middle, to guide the greenhorns and lead the charge home. Former India batsman Dilip Sardesai says, “They need some experience in the middle order.”Singh thinks a reason for the regular panic could be because none of the newcomers bats so low for their state teams. “It’s not an easy spot. When you are thrust in there, you come across situations you’ve never faced before. If you bat there regularly at six, you can think clearly in the crunch,” he says.advertisementWHO’S THE MAN? (From left) Mohammed Kaif, Hemang Badani and Dinesh Mongia failed to finish well against EnglandIt is about finding the bits-and-pieces man who is more than the sum of his bits and pieces. “We don’t have a single quality allrounder. I think we’ve left things too late,” says former India wicket-keeper Kiran More. Usually, people do not like to be proved wrong. But in the case of Indian cricket and the anticipated bleakness of its tomorrows, no one would like to be proved right either.Between now and the World Cup, India are scheduled to play at least 23 one-day internationals. Each of those 23 games could be a rung up a ladder or lurch down a blind alley. It depends entirely on those involved-officials, selectors, captain, coach and individual players.They have not all pulled in the same direction; the latest example being the selectors’ decision to drop Harbhajan Singh even before the series against England was won.If selections made from now fulfil whims rather than filling slots, the team is doubly doomed. It is time for those given chances to choose between the timid safety of the fringes, which they opted for against England, or the white heat of the centrestage.After the Mumbai game, Wright put out Indian cricket’s “situation vacant” notice, “What we need is a player to put up his hand and say, ‘Pick me. I’ll get you the runs. I’m the man.'” By the time 2003 comes around, one of “the Boys” will have to be that man.