World Cup 2019: Why does India’s middle order suddenly seem so strong?
India came into the World Cup 2019 match against Australia with a confidence-boosting win against South Africa and the India v Australia clash was billed as one that was certain to go down to the wire.
Indian skipper Virat Kohli won the toss and opted to bat first under seaming conditions. However, the Australian pace duo of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins failed to make any impact up front as Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan put up 127 for the first wicket.
After the steady opening stand, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan joined forces as they ensured that the run-rate was in check and with the pitch hardly unleashing any demons, the duo stitched a 93-run partnership before Dhawan fell to Starc.
Once Dhawan got out though, the fans watched with bated breath as their middle order now had the responsibility of taking India to a respectable total. Having misfired for much of last year, something seemed different about the middle order this time.
In the warm-up games, incidentally, it wasn’t the top three that contributed to their win against Bangladesh with the middle order contributing with two centuries. Certainly, India's middle order needed this confidence coming into the tournament.
Apart from Rohit Sharma's unbeaten 122 against South Africa, the middle order did make some good starts but all three of Virat Kohli (18), KL Rahul (26) and MS Dhoni (34) threw their wickets away.
Against Australia, the top three yet again made vital contributions in the form of Shikhar Dhawan's 117 and half-centuries from Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. However, with both the openers back in the hut in the 37th over, the number four position was now in focus.
Hardik Pandya walked in to bat at number four ahead of KL Rahul and MS Dhoni and the message was clear. Pandya was sent in to accelerate and after being dropped off the first ball by Alex Carey, he was not going to let go of the opportunity.
Pandya took up the onus of the big-hitting as he smashed a 27-ball 48 with four fours and three sixes before cameoes from MS Dhoni (27 of 14 balls) and KL Rahul (11* of 3 balls) took India to a dominating total of 352/5 from 50 overs.
MS Dhoni's rise to form
Perhaps the most significant change in the side over the last year has been the form of MS Dhoni. The master finisher was in poor form for most of 2017 as well as the whole of 2018, without a single 50+ score from 2018.
His form has seen a massive facelift in 2019 where he has already notched up 388 runs from 11 matches at an average of 64.67. With MS Dhoni in some top form, the biggest weakness has been resolved. The middle order consists of players who can rotate the strike freely and also score the big hits that makes of a well seasoned middle order.
With Vijay Shankar and Dinesh Karthik, two class players who can farm strike and hit big waiting in the wings, the injury to Shikhar Dhawan might just be a blessing in disguise, with either Shankar or Karthik bound to take the number four position.
Another school of thought would be to play MS Dhoni at four and Karthik as a finisher that will add depth to the squad as well.
In addition to Shankar and Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja's abilities with the bat came to the fore during the IPL and in the warm-up matches that will ensure that the Indian middle order wears a solid look as the World Cup progresses.
The Indian team has the right mix of experience in the form of Karthik, Dhoni, Sharma, and Kohli as well as finishers in Pandya, Dhoni, and Jadhav. At the same time, the line-up is also composed of some match-winners who can play with patience and change gears when required that can good to good effect in the games to come.
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