Analysing India's options for the upcoming Australia series and looking ahead to the 2019 World Cup
“The team for the three ODIs against Australia has been selected in line with the rotation policy of the Board and accordingly R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have been rested.”
MSK Prasad, the chairman of selectors, had said this while announcing India's squad for the first three ODIs against Australia. Whether the two Test stalwarts have actually been ‘rested’ has been debated in wake of their poor recent form and comparative failure in the Champions Trophy. However, the preference for Axar Patel and Y Chahal, players who were on the fringes a few years back, is emblematic of a certain problem the Indian team is facing currently.
The problem of plenty.
Slowly but surely, over the past 18 months, the Indian cricket team, has, for the 50-over format built enviable bench strength. Here, we look at each position and the options available for the World Cup to be held in 2019. In addition, a team is selected that could possibly start the series against Australia.
Options - Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Ajinkya Rahane
The recent series against Sri Lanka has consolidated the places of the opening duo, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. Although Rohit was always a surety, Shikhar’s patchy form had put his selection in doubt. However, his emphatic returns in the Sri Lanka series mean that Rahul will most likely be tried lower down the order while Rahane will remain the third-choice opener.
Despite Rahul being a serious contender for the opener's slot, Rohit and Dhawan feed of each other well and their left-right combination is an advantage the team cannot forego. Besides, with the World Cup being held in England, considering Dhawan and Rohit’s imperious form in the country (both average in excess of 50), it makes sense to give them a chance to flourish at the top.
Option - Virat Kohli
He is the first name on the team sheet and there is not much to say about Virat Kohli that hasn’t already been said. The number of runs he churns out, the speed with which he makes them, and the frequency with which he combines the two facets has already earned him comparisons with Sir Don Bradman, at least in the limited-overs format.
That he is the team’s no. 3 is a given. His attacking and energetic captaincy along with the team culture he has built is taking the team to new heights.
No. 4 and No. 5
Options - Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey, KL Rahul, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh
The slots which have the most competition. All the aforementioned players would walk into most sides but such is the competition right now that only two can be selected.
Kedar Jadhav had a mixed run against Sri Lanka, failing to read Akila Dhananjaya well. However, his attacking style of play has helped him win games for his side from precarious positions and his canny, loopy off-breaks have broken many a partnership.
Though KL Rahul had a horrible limited-overs series against Sri Lanka, he is a dangerous proposition. With his ability to string decent scores consistently and his attacking but technically correct strokeplay, he is definitely a player for the future.
Manish Pandey had a wonderful A-Tour and also helped himself to a half-century in the Sri Lanka series. He has shown his finishing ability and has also played many match-winning knocks for his IPL team Kolkata Knight Riders. It is also hard to forget his match-winning knock against Australia in 2016. It is time for him to be given a regular run in the side.
These three are the prime contenders, with Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh only outside bets. But it is hard to write such stalwarts off having witnessed the many comebacks the two southpaws have made in the past.
Jadav seemed to hit form at the end of the series against Sri Lanka, and coupling it with his more than useful habit of taking key wickets in the middle overs, he should be given the opportunity to start against Australia.
Pandey too deserves the opportunity to showcase his talent, something he has waited for, for a long time. It is time he cashes in on his good form.
As a result of his poor form in Sri Lanka, Rahul must wait his turn.
Wicket-keeper and All-rounders
Options - MS Dhoni, Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya
MS Dhoni faces competition from young prodigy Rishabh Pant but the former’s measured contributions with the bat and outrageous keeping in the recent series against Sri Lanka, coinciding with the latter’s loss of form in recent A-Tours have given the veteran some breathing space. Dhoni’s experience and the smart head on his shoulders also add value beyond just runs and catches.
Hardik Pandya doesn’t have direct competition due to the lack of seaming all-rounders in the country. The only thing that could keep him out is the team combination. However, the World Cup being in England means his unique all-round ability will be preferred.
Options - R Ashwin, R Jadeja, A Patel, Y Chahal, K Yadav
The stats from 2016 onwards reveal a lot. Ashwin and Jadeja have played more matches than they have picked wickets and their economy rates hover around 6 an over while their strike rates are 56.4 and 76.3 respectively.
In comparison, Axar, Kuldeep and Chahal have economy rates around 4 and have also been amongst the wickets, with Kuldeep and Chahal possessing strike rates in the lower 30s.
It is clear that Ashwin and Jadeja do not walk in to the team in the 50-over format anymore. In addition to their lacklustre bowling, their diminishing batting returns (which may be because of a strong top order) reduce their value as all-rounders. It is telling that their success and meteoric rise in Tests has coincided with a dip in limited-overs form. It remains to be seen how they come back having fallen down the pecking order.
Chahal and Kuldeep are attacking spinners and coupling either of them with a spinner who offers control like Axar Patel will help India get those crucial wickets in the middle overs.
Options - J Bumrah, M Shami, B Kumar, U Yadav
The pace bowling stocks have never been richer and so replete with variety. Each of the names mentioned above brings a unique skill to the table and all are in exceptional form. (Yadav’s limited-overs record notwithstanding.) As good as the batting is, teams with bowling lineups that have the ability to pick wickets during the powerplay and limit the damage at the death are extremely valued in today’s age of flat pitches and short boundaries.
Due to the presence of Pandya, there is a possibility that only two pacers make it in to the playing 11.
Bumrah picks himself as a capable first change and arguably the best death bowler going around in international cricket.
B Kumar has been putting in consistent shifts and has continued to make great strides in his death bowling. However, Shami’s extra pace, zip and reputation as an X-factor bowler may tilt the scales in his favour.
As good as Umesh is right now, he is still erratic in the limited-overs format when compared to the others and will have to be more consistent to warrant a place in the side.
So here is the team that I would advocate
Openers - R Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan
Middle order - Virat Kohli (c), Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey
Wicketkeeper - MS Dhoni
All-rounder - Hardik Pandya
Spinners - Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav/Y Chahal,
Pacers - M Shami, J Bumrah
The squad is strong and in a few more series, we will have more clarity on the matter. There are 22 players waiting. Only 11 can play.
Who those 11 are, only time will tell.