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What’s the way forward for Team India?

Shaan Waseem
CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
Timeless

Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli

The major takeaway from the series win against the West Indies was Shreyas Iyer’s rise as a flexible batsman in the middle order. Apart from that, there wasn’t much to write home about.

As a matter of fact, plenty of questions remain unanswered over the batting lineup, considering they found themselves in a spot of bother in both the games. If it wasn’t for Virat Kohli doing his thing on the slow surfaces, India could have well been on the other side of the score-line.

I’ve spoken about the inability of the selectors to look beyond a certain group of players in the past, which is a problem that persists even now. We’ve seen what Iyer did with just a couple of opportunities. He has piled on the runs at the India A level for a good couple of years, and the end result is there for everyone to see. So why not experiment more?

Shreyas Iyer acknowledging the applause after his fifty
Shreyas Iyer acknowledging the applause after his fifty

Take the current number 6, Kedar Jadhav, as an example. I don’t see him playing for much longer, with constant injuries deterring him and age not being on his side. At the World Cup, the team thought he wasn’t good enough, due to which he was dropped halfway through the tournament.

This series would have been the perfect opportunity for grooming some of the young cricketers like Shivam Dube or Ishan Kishan at that crucial finishing role. The only logical reasoning I can find for persisting with Jadhav is the unavailability of Hardik Pandya or Vijay Shankar as the extra bowling option.

Arguably, the focal point of this team has been the number 4 slot. For now, the clouds over that spot continue to hover. There is no question about Rishabh Pant playing in this team, or about his ability. The only doubt regarding him is his position.

Pant has flattered to deceive while batting at 4, with Iyer virtually batting at that position in both the completed matches. A player like Pant needs to be given the license to go big or go home. But at present, the team management is trying to mold him and alter his game into a role that he has looked at sea with.

Rishabh Pant
Rishabh Pant
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That’s not to say he shouldn’t evolve as a cricketer. There’s a time for that. At this stage of his career, he should be allowed to enjoy himself, whilst the more experienced and composed Iyer takes the burden of steadying the ship.

That way both of them would benefit, and the team would be making the best use of their present skill-set rather than trying to create something that isn’t there.

It just seems as though Pant is crumbling under such a huge amount of responsibility being thrust upon him so soon. The ideal designations for him are either that of a Gilchrist-like opening role, or a Buttler-like finishing job. You ask any bowler today, and he would not want to bowl at Pant and Pandya in tandem at the back end of the innings.

Shikhar Dhawan, meanwhile, is going through one of those patches where his technique is all over the place. Just by looking at him bat for a couple of overs, you can tell that he isn’t in the zone that we usually associate him with.

Unlike previous occasions though, there’s an opener by the name of Shubman Gill, who has cracked open the door of selection through the golden weight of runs. Another factor that isn’t working in Dhawan’s favor is that he is out of the Test team.

It’s never easy as a top order batsman to merely thrive on the limited overs’ formats. Ambati Rayudu was a victim of the same. The fact that Dhawan is 33 years old doesn’t help either. With each low score, his age is brought into the fore, and understandably so.

Dhawan was dropped from the Test squad due to too many low scores in between the odd big one, and the same seems to be creeping into the shorter formats. What I’d want from the southpaw is to go back to Ranji Trophy cricket and get some tough, hard runs for Delhi.

Shikhar Dhawan
Shikhar Dhawan

For an opener in particular, there’s nothing like the insurance of runs scored against the red ball. It would do his confidence and technique a world of good.

The bowling, for the large part, has been the stronger suit of this team for the last few years, across all formats. During this series, there were moments where the bowlers were under the pump, and that’s where the experience of Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar saw India through.

Khaleel Ahmed looked his regular wicket-taking self, though I’d have preferred to see Navdeep Saini given a run in the ODI series. Khaleel needs to work on his defensive bowling. You can attack over the course of 4 overs in a T20, but to bowl 10 good overs in an ODI, there are times where you need to take a step back by sticking to the basics of line and length and wait for the batsman to make a mistake.

Ever since the series Down Under, Kohli has been reluctant to field the duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav in the same lineup. The way forward, by the looks of it, is that Ravindra Jadeja would be the constant, while both the wrist spinners would be played on a rotational basis.

That is not too bad a strategy, considering that Jadeja provides you with a full quota of overs, saves at least 10 to 15 runs in the field and in recent times, has shown that he can wield his mighty sword lower down the order. You can’t go too wrong with multi-skilled cricketers of that sort.

Jadeja is the kind of player who I’d describe as ‘safe’. While you won’t see him grabbing headlines and making the front pages, he does his job efficiently and consistently, which is why he has been able to sustain himself as a cricketer at the highest level.

Don’t get me wrong; he’s a completely different beast on sub-continental Test match wickets, and can win you games single-handedly on a rank turner. But in limited overs, he is the ultimate utility cricketer, and one that India would do well to use liberally in the coming future.

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