ICC World Cup 2019: India must choose its middle order wisely for the first match against South Africa
India cannot afford to start slowly in the World Cup, and the matches have been scheduled in such a way that it cannot afford to ease into the tournament. Its first four opponents are all power-houses – South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan – each of whom is a strong contender for a semi-final spot.
The current format where every team plays everyone else once in the league stage, unlike earlier World Cup formats of playing only a handful of teams in the group stage, ensures that more consistent teams get rewarded for their performances.
The opening match of the tournament may set the tone for the entire campaign, for any team. Usually, a team prefers to open against a weaker team, because that helps it acclimatise with the conditions before bigger challenges. But, India does not have the luxury of such a scenario.
So, India must start strongly, and the first thing India must get right is its combination. Its top order batting and pace bowling line-up, as well as the wicket-keeping position are more or less fixed. Though Kohli may be tempted to include Jadeja as a second spinner, he may eventually decide to go with the tried and tested wrist-spinning duo – Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, i.e. if he decides to go with two spinners. Otherwise, he will bring in a third seamer.
Of the two pace-bowling all-rounders that India has, Hardik Pandya is a certainty. However, Vijay Shankar’s position is dependent on various factors. His below par performance during the IPL is cause of concern, for sure. His struggle against spin during the IPL was there for all to see, and it is quite likely other teams will look to exploit that.
This is especially worrying since he is expected to fit in as India’s number four batsman, if the selectors are to be believed, and normally, a batsman at number four is expected to face a lot of spin in the middle overs.
Though South Africa have traditionally been more dependent on their pace bowling, this South African side has two very capable spinners in Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi. So, the Indian team needs to take a call on whether to play Shankar or Dinesh Karthik as India’s number four. The latter is a very good player of spin, but in recent times, he has been more successful as a finisher than a middle order batsman.
So, have India acted in haste by selecting Shankar purely on the basis of his form in the short term leading up to the World Cup selection? Only time will tell, but an ardent Indian fan would certainly hope that is not the case. Maybe the Indian team should give enough opportunities to Shankar during the warm-up games to regain his confidence.
Moreover, one hopes that India’s middle order worries are not exacerbated by the injury to Kedar Jadhav, and that he regains his fitness and is in form come the World Cup.