The No. 6 dilemma for Team India - World Cup 2019
With the World Cup only 9 months away – yes 9 months is “only” when it’s the world cup, the Indian bowling surprisingly looks much more settled than the batting. Y Chahal, K Yadav, B Kumar, J Bumrah, H Pandya are the definite choices and the reserves include R Ashwin, R Jadeja, U Yadav and young guns like S Thakur and D Chahar.
What India has struggled with is the no. 4 and no. 6 spots in the batting line up. The no. 4 spot has a lot of takers including KL Rahul, M Pandey, A. Rayudu and many more. Even MS Dhoni for that matter can now play that role. However, the No. 6 spot which usually belongs to a finisher has been left vacant after the role of MS Dhoni changed in the team. India has five bowlers, good ones at that, but the need for a good sixth bowling option cannot be ignored. Good teams always need someone at No. 6 who can give you 5-6 overs and also finish games when needed. Suresh Raina has been out of form and doesn’t look his old self. Seeing the current scenario, India should seriously look at either Krunal Pandya or Axar Patel for this role. Each of them has his own advantages. While the former is more of a batsman, the latter can give even 10 overs if the situation and the pitch requires. Every bowler has a bad day and that’s when you need your sixth bowler to step up. Both the elder Pandya and Patel have shown in the IPL that they have the temperament and the skills to play at the highest level.
Axar Patel’s performances might have gone unnoticed because of the team he plays for, i.e. the Kings XI Punjab, who have never won the IPL and moreover have gone beyond the league stage only twice. However, his personal contribution has always been commendable. He has a strike rate of around 130 and has picked up 61 wickets with an economy of 7.5 in the IPL. Even his stats while representing the national team are worthy of a mention. He has played 38 ODIs of India and has picked up 45 wickets with an economy of 4.43. He has performed admirably in the ongoing County Championship in England for Durham against Glamorgan remaining unbeaten on 95 and then picking up 3 wickets. Though these stats are not exhilarating, they inspire confidence. He has good technique, the temperament to take his team over the line and when called on, can get you wickets as well. He can hit big as well. In a match between KXIP and RCB, he came to the crease with the Kings XI reeling at 78 for 5 and scored an unbeaten 17 ball 38 to take his team to a respectable 138 in 20 overs. He also scalped 3 wickets, giving away just 11 runs in 3 overs. Also worth mentioning that the Kings XI won the match.
Another option, which has not been explored by the Indian National Team, is Krunal Pandya. He has been magnificent for the Mumbai Indians playing the role of an all-rounder. He has scored 708 in 33 innings at an average of 30 (a decent average in T20s) and a strike rate of over 150. He has batted at no.3, 4 and 5 for the Mumbai Indians, and has shouldered every responsibility admirably. He was also the Man of the Match in a low scoring IPL 2017 final against the Rising Pune Supergiants with a match-winning 47 of 38 balls. So not only does he have the capability to bat well but also handle pressure. He also has 28 wickets to his name. He is a consistent performer and delivers something in every match. Some players might score big; say a century in a game and then nothing for the next 5-6 games or may pick up a 5 wicket haul in one game and then go wicketless or give away excess runs in the next few games. The elder Pandya is someone who will give you consistent runs as a batsman and stop the run flow along with picking up wickets as a bowler.
Agreed that these not are fully tried and tested options, but with the Asia Cup coming up and then the tours of Australia and New Zealand, there is still time to gauge these options and solve the No. 6 dilemma for Team India before the World Cup.