“NEW DELHI (AP) — After a hiatus of 12 years, the ICC World Cup is set to return to India, and the host nation is fervently aiming to break their trophy drought at major ICC events.

India’s most recent World Cup triumph was in 2011 when they co-hosted the tournament alongside Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Under the astute leadership of MS Dhoni, India clinched the trophy with a resounding six-wicket victory over Sri Lanka in the final, marking their second ODI World Cup title. Their first triumph had been an iconic victory in England in 1983.

Since their victorious campaign in the 2013 Champions Trophy against hosts England, India has endured a dry spell in major tournaments. They reached the semifinals of both the 2015 and 2019 ODI World Cups, securing runners-up positions in the 2014 T20 World Cup and the 2017 Champions Trophy.

India also hosted the 2016 T20 World Cup but narrowly missed a place in the finals, falling to eventual champions West Indies in the semifinals. Additionally, they faced successive defeats in the World Test Championship finals, first to New Zealand in 2021 and then to Australia in 2023.

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Despite their recent lack of success, India consistently remains a top contender at ICC events. Expectations soar when India hosts a tournament, and under the leadership of Rohit Sharma, they are once again considered among the favorites as New Zealand takes on England in the tournament opener on Oct. 5, a rematch of last year’s final won by England.

For 36-year-old Sharma, this World Cup presents an opportunity for redemption. He was omitted from India’s triumphant 2011 World Cup squad due to concerns about his form and fitness. Now, not only is he leading the team but also playing a pivotal role as a key batsman.

Sharma joins an exclusive group of Indian captains who have led the team in a home World Cup, including Kapil Dev (1987), Mohammed Azharuddin (1996), and Dhoni (2011, 2016).

Sharma was the leading run-scorer in the 2019 World Cup, amassing 648 runs in nine matches at an impressive average of 81. In the 2015 edition, he was India’s second-highest run-scorer. Thus, much rests on Sharma’s ability to score runs and his partnership at the top of the order with the highly-touted youngster Shubman Gill, who has accumulated an impressive 1,052 runs in 18 ODI innings in 2023.

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Virat Kohli, who recently broke free from a three-year slump in form, is another crucial asset. He has notched up three centuries in his last 13 ODI innings and is now just two centuries behind compatriot Sachin Tendulkar’s all-time record of 49. Kohli is widely expected to break that record during the tournament.

India’s form leading up to the World Cup has been inconsistent. They narrowly edged past West Indies 2-1 in away matches, with Sharma and Kohli rested for most of the series. In March, they suffered a 2-1 home series loss to a full-strength Australian side.

However, India comes off a recent 2-1 series win over Australia in India, which included Australia’s consolation 66-run win just last week.

Key players for India include pace bowler Jasprit Bumrah, wicketkeeper Lokesh Rahul, and middle-order batsman Shreyas Iyer. Iyer, who recovered from long-term injuries, played a crucial role in India’s victory in the Asia Cup earlier this month. India triumphed over Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka in the group stages before dominating Sri Lanka in the final. The highlight of the final was pacer Mohammed Siraj’s career-best performance, picking up 6-21 in Colombo as Sri Lanka was bundled out for a mere 50 runs.

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India’s World Cup journey will commence with a clash against the five-time champions Australia on Oct. 8 in Chennai. The much-anticipated showdown against archrivals Pakistan is slated for Oct. 14 in Ahmedabad, and they will face England on Oct. 29 in Lucknow.

Reflecting on the team’s preparations, Sharma stated after the third ODI against Australia last Wednesday, “In the last few games, we have been challenged across different conditions and against different opposition. We have performed exceptionally well in these games. We have a strong squad, and we have a clear strategy for the World Cup. Our focus now is on keeping our minds and bodies fresh in the coming 1 1/2 months.””