Team India in a soup post series loss as clouds over the final fifteen for the world cup still loom large
There is a lot to take away for team India from what has been a rather interesting series loss to Australia. After a considerable amount of time, one could see India being pushed to the limits, almost every game, even the first two that they had won. I say it is a rather interesting series loss, because it seems as though team India found ways to deny victory time and again. The obvious discourse around the series has been that, it is a platform to try, test and pick the final fifteen that will make the flight to England and Wales this summer for the mega event.
The purpose, however, seemed to have become fuzzy and diluted as the series panned out. At the end of the series one was expected to have a clear cut idea of what the final fifteen might appear to be, but what really it turned out to be was a nasty mix up. Two months away from the World Cup, every Indian cricket fan is a tad bit confused with the scenario and so appear to be the players as well. Everyone is chalking up their squad of fifteen they would like to send to England and so does this article.
Before we move into looking into the potential fifteen from India, we must give credit where it’s due, to the Aussies for putting up a stellar show. The Australian limited over squad had a dismal run for well over a year, with their stalwarts David Warner, Steven Smith and Mitchel Starc missing in most of their games. Series losses across the globe and at home meant that cricket pundits had begun to associate a tag of dark horse with the Aussie side, a rarity in itself as historically Australia have been counted among the favourites to win any world event over the past two decades if not more.
This passionate and hungry team, as termed by Virat Kohli himself, showed immense character and grit under the leadership of Aaron Finch. This series could be the start of the turn around Australian cricket was hoping for post the disasters year. They were able to solve many problems that they had walking into the series and possibly could have created a few good ones going forward.
The likes of Usman Khwaja and Peter Handscomb offer the kind of solidity at the top which will only go from strength to strength once the ex-captain and vice captain duo join them in the batting order. Aaron Finch also has shown hints of creeping back into form and was exemplary as a leader on the field.
Pat Cummins has consistently performed and perhaps has grabbed the eyeballs of one and all with the effort that he puts in with every ball. Adam Zampa and Nathan Lyon bowled at par with the Indian spinners, if not better throughout the series. Zampa especially has displayed a knack of picking up big wickets at crucial stages of the games. Overall, it could be said that a rather timid Australian limited overs team that had come into this tour of India would be flying to UAE with their heads up high, to face Pakistan.
The Indian problem
The exact opposite could be said for team India. With an enormous number of changes and prevalent sense of instability, they find themselves in a soup, hanging on to the same questions that they had before the start of the New Zealand series. The biggest problem with team India right now is the middle order. With too many changes made in an endeavor to answer this question India seem to have puzzled themselves further more. Apart from the middle order, the team composition seems to be something to be looked at. How many spinners to play? How many all rounders to play? Who’s going to be the back-up keeper? These are some questions that seem to make the Indian think tank tear their hair out at the moment.
Let’s try and answer some of those questions. Let’s try and pick the playing eleven (for majority of the games) for the tournament and in that pursuit lets identify the players that make up the core of this Indian ODI outfit.
The openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, pick themselves for the kind of performances they have put up over the past three ICC events. In fact, along with Kohli, it is these two individuals who have been catalysts for many of Indian’s batting dominated wins. They have recently gone past the opening pair of Sachin and Sehwag in terms of aggregate runs in ODIs with fifteen hundred run stands, which speaks volumes about their prowess at the top.
Virat Kohli, the name is enough. This man picks himself in every ODI team across every generation.
Jasprit Bumrah and Kuldeep Yadav must play each and every match possible for team India for India to dominate with their bowling. Matches are won by picking wickets and building pressure and these two are the most attacking options we have when it comes to picking wickets.
Kuldeep might have had an average series which tended to slope downwards after the first two games, but over the past year and a half, he has been phenomenal for India. He’s the real attacking option in the squad, he bowls with greater guile and does the hard job of trying to create a wicket out of nothing in the all important middle overs.
Bumrah is probably the number one limited overs bowler at the moment, he's equally effective at every stage of the innings with the ball in his hands. Be it the outswinger at the top that he developed in South Africa or be it the death overs, something people regard as his forte, he’s turned up with the goods time and again for team India.
The MSD factor
We have five names on the list already, the sixth name ought to bring balance, just like this man does on the field. MS Dhoni, an absolute legend of the game picks himself for not just his batting prowess, not just his lightning quick efficiency behind the stumps but also for the way he shepherds the spinners and the fielders alike at crunch moments.
A good example could be the way Kedar Jadhav’s bowling suffered in MS Dhoni’s absence. He bowled only two overs in the Ranchi game, but thereafter has gone for 52 runs in his 6 overs in the fourth and fifth game combined. His grouping suggests that he’s been bowling fuller in Dhoni’s absence. Dhoni’s service as simply the cricketing mind that he is wouldn’t want to be missed out by any ODI outfit across the globe. With him around, Virat breathes easy, especially in the final few overs while he fields in the deep.
In my opinion, MS Dhoni could solve all the middle order issues if he bats at four. That is the kind of game Dhoni posses, especially at this stage of his career. He’s a master at building an innings and guiding people who bat around him. Also, with stroke players like Pandya, Rahul and Jadhav around he could feel much less pressure when it comes to catching up to his the required run rate. He could also very easily bat at number five behind Rahul and still carry out a similar role.
The remainder of the five spots must be filled by KL Rahul, Hardik Panya, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Kedar Jadhav.
KL Rahul - The floater
KL Rahul could be used as a floater. Rahul would find himself hard done by, as he was given only one game throughout the series. He deserved to be featured in the last ODI. Nonetheless, he’s a class player! He posses the ability to strike the ball at will at the same time has a good defensive technique. We need such multidimensional players moving into a tournament as big as the World Cup.
He can be promoted to number three if our openers fail to give us a big start. A backup opener within the eleven. He could also play the role of a finisher along with Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya in a chase, batting behind MS Dhoni. In fact, the natural hitting ability and the range of shots Rahul has to offer could potentially waiver off the pressure that Dhoni might feel in the middle allowing him to play the role of an anchor with much more ease.
Hardik Pandya is the only three dimensional player in the squad. He has the flair and the power that could be needed to boost India to a big total in the final few overs while batting. He can be handy with the ball in hand and offer at least six to seven overs per game and most importantly he is one of the finest fielders going around in the international circuit at the moment.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say he possess the athleticism to save at least five to ten runs in the field every game and in World Cups these runs turn out to be very crucial. For me, he's can be a game changer and needs to feature in the eleven every time take the field.
Kedar Jadhav is handy with ball and there is no denying that. In a squad with only one frontline spinner he could easily skip past a few overs to keep the run rate at bay and build pressure. He has had a couple of bad games with the ball but so did Kuldeep Yadav! I think Kedar Jadhav can be trusted to extract four or five overs on a daily basis. Jadhav and Pandya can share fifth bowler’s quota of overs and can also share the responsibility of closing out the innings with the bat. Jadhav is a collected, street smart individual, who tends to perform well under pressure and his ability to keep the scoreboard ticking can really be of use for the Indian squad.
Three frontline pacers
Wrist-spinners are hogging the limelight across the globe at the moment, however it is important to play according to the conditions. In England and Wales, without a doubt the ball will swing and seam. With these conditions, Bhuvi and Shami are the duo that could provide early breakthroughs for India in almost every game. Along with Bumrah they form a terrorizing trio of fast bowlers.
This provides Kohli with the flexibility of bringing on one of them at any stage required to build pressure and chip away with a wicket or two. They both also have considerably improved their death bowling in the recent past and have transcended towards being the complete ODI bowler. Most importantly, they are two extremely calm and collected individuals under pressure and they both have been around the international circuit for more than half a decade now making them highly experienced.
The remainder of the team
The remainder of the four in the fifteen now become a tough task to pic, but the recent series luckily has made it easier to decide as to who to not pick. Vijay Shankar and Rishabh Pant definitely do not feature in my fifteen, because they lack substance at the moment. They have the talent, they have the game but they haven’t shown it with the bat so far in the limited overs format(s). With less than fifteen games, combined, they lack the experience to step into a world cup squad.
Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravindra Jadeja would be my two other spinners. Chahal and Kuldeep are termed as the spin twins popularly and although their approaches might be different, they more or less illicit the same results. With drainage facilities completely draining out the water from the outfield and the square in majority of the English grounds, there is a likely chance that the pitches might dry up a bit and offer assistance for spinners. Both these spinners along with Kuldeep can then turn out to be very important, as not picking them would be a waste of valuable resources.
Jadeja, I believe will be a huge force in the field, he might not feature in the eleven but can be called on as a substitute and might earn wickets for India by forcing runout and building pressure with his fielding inside the ring. He also could feature in as a spinning all-rounder for pitches that offer assistance to spinners.
Ambati Rayudu features in as the extra batsman, because of his attitude towards the team, he’s a team man and is another individual who has a cool head on his shoulders. He has performed under pressure situations time and again in the IPL and has shown great character. His ability to rotate strike with greater ease and his superior defensive technique make him my choice over Dinesh Karthik.
Extra bowler or backup keeper?
The fifteenth person really lies between picking a back-up wicketkeeper or a back-up pacer. In my opinion an extra pacer would be much more important given the long schedule of the tournament. Although India has one of the most relaxed schedules, the pacers can pick a niggle any time and hence it is important to rotate them in the less important games. For this reason, I pick Umesh Yadav. Personally I am not a huge of Yadav either, but he has genuine pace, he can get the ball to move and currently he’s the best Indian bowler (with enough experience at the international) after the other three already in the squad. With the presence of at least two of the other three pacers, he can be given the relatively easier overs if need be.
Dinesh Karthik has done well and moulded himself into a finisher, however, we have enough of those kinds in the squad. He loses out the players who have more than one facet to their game at the moment; both Jadhav and Pandya can offer a few overs marking up the fifth bowler's quota.
So this my squad for the World Cup in batting order:
1) Rohit Sharma
2) Shikhar Dhawan
3) Virat Kohli (C)
4) MS Dhoni (WK)
5) KL Rahul
6) Kedar Jadhav
7) Hardik Pandya
8) Bhuvaneshwar Kumar
9) Kuldeep Yadav
10) Mohammed Shami
11) Jasprit Bumrah
12) Ravindra Jadeja
13) Yuzvendra Chahal
14) Ambati Rayudu
15) Umesh Yadav