Proposal for a desperate experiment India could try out ahead of World Cup
As I write this, Shikhar Dhawan has customarily guided Mitchell Starc to first slip for yet another cheap dismissal in the ongoing tri-series. More than the disappointment of India’s apparent inability in stringing together something of substance at the top, it is the increasing sense of inevitability of failure that is a grave concern as India sets itself up for title defence of the greatest tournament in limited overs cricket.
Bowling was always expected to be India’s weaker link in the expedition, but when batting starts to compete for the same title, the inevitability complex starts assuming alarming proportions.
Murali Vijay’s non-inclusion in the 15-man probables list distributes opening responsibilities among the troika of Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, and Dhawan, of course. The problem gets more complicated because Rahane, while looking fluent, has not yet racked up assuring numbers beside his name in the shorter format. The Mumbaikar would probably be more comfortable at No.4, but Dhawan’s inconsistency at the top may see him opening on a regular basis during the World Cup. Rohit has impressed in his only appearance in the Tri-series, and should be a certainty for the other opener’s slot.
Yet another worrying development is Virat Kohli’s demotion to the No. 4 spot, with his regular No. 3 slot being occupied by Ambati Rayudu. Whether the move is to ‘protect’ India’s most promising batsman from the juice in the pitch during the early overs or to compensate for the missing behemoth Yuvraj Singh in the middle order, it certainly is more than a tad unfair on Rayudu, who is not cut out for the one-down slot, even in domestic conditions. Kohli himself has not taken to his new position with glee, with a 100% failure rate thus far.
The reliable (at least in the shorter and shortest formats) Suresh Raina is a solid factor in the lower middle order, while Stuart Binny, despite a good showing in India’s nightmarish outing against England, does not give me much assurance – not yet, at least.
Compounding India’s woes is captain MS Dhoni, for not displaying his famous penchant of staying till the end, in victory or defeat. The skipper has got in and got out, thereby denying the team a good 20-30 runs extra that he generates at the end, a figure that can easily determine the difference between victory and defeat.
We could opine our hearts out, but the truth is that, in the batting department, we cannot do much more than hope. There is not much scope to chop and change in the batting line-up, because the selection has been made under the assumption that batting is not going to be a concern at all. In other words, the selectors, taking India’s batting for granted, have focused their efforts on providing more variety in the bowling: a move which could backfire in more ways than one.
There are plenty of options in the bowling department (not even getting into the argument on how many of these options will actually come good on any given day), but the greatest mistake, in my opinion (if I may ignore the Binny inclusion), is the unnecessary luxury of carrying three spinners into the tournament, one of whom should have been omitted in favour of an extra batsman.
In an effort to provide more cover for our weakness, our strength, which has been largely taken for granted, is now tottering uncomfortably close to the edge. The bowling continues to be inconsistent, despite the additional resources, in a paradox that now leaves India unsure in both departments, with the World Cup almost upon us.
Call me old fashioned, but I would like India to revert to a batting-focused attack, with bowling playing a sidekick, as opposed to the current plan of elevating it to hero status, something for which the firepower is clearly lacking. Yuvraj would have been a wonderful addition to have in the middle order; but since that option is not viable anymore (barring last minute injury concerns), I propose bringing out all the batting guns at our disposal, expect that some of them fire, and hope the bowling is good enough to survive.
My openers would be Rohit and Rahane, who have looked decidedly more assured than the behind-the-wickets catching practice provider Dhawan. However, rather than discarding the southpaw altogether, I would have him in at No.3, given that Kohli-protection looks set to stay. Whatever little chance of success Dhawan has, will be once the pitch eases out and the ball softens a bit, a phenomenon displayed briefly during the controversial Indian second innings of the Brisbane Test in the recently concluded Border Gavaskar trophy.
Nos. 4, 5, 6 and 7 will be Kohli, Rayudu, Raina and Dhoni. I would risk playing Binny in place of Bhuvneshwar; both of them are similar bowlers, and with the latter not exactly setting the ODI stage ablaze with his performances, I would opt for the better batsman, at least on paper. In the event of Binny looking like a fish out of the water with the ball, Bhuvneshwar or one of the other quicks can replace him, without the top 7 being disturbed.
I will have the one specialist spinner at No.9; with all of our options decent with the bat, this would give India an extremely strong batting line-up, of course, yet again on paper. Ishant Sharma will be a certainty in my XI, with either Umesh Yadav or Mohammed Shami rounding off. This would leave us in a familiar 4 specialist bower scenario (assuming Binny can be termed a specialist), with Rohit, Raina and Kohli combining as the 5th bowler.
To recapitulate, this would be an XI I would like to test out: Rohit, Rahane, Dhawan, Kohli, Rayudu, Raina, Dhoni, Binny/Bhuvneshwar, Akshar/Ashwin/Jadeja, Shami/Umesh, Ishant. India should target chasing whenever they win the toss and back themselves to run down anything; if they bat first, 350 should be targeted every time (yes, Aussie pitches including).
This is by no means a guaranteed solution. It is, at best, a desperate experiment. However, given the current context, these are desperate times. ‘If it ain’t broke, there is no need to mend it’ is no longer an adage we can go along with, because the current Indian ODI machinery looks pretty much conked out. Successful or not, a last ditch overhaul would be imperative.