Why India is on the right track for the World Cup 2019
Michael Clarke was one of the commentators in the recently concluded India-Australia ODI series. Before the third ODI in Indore, the former Australia captain, only in jest, prodded the Indian audience by saying how they would like the series to still be alive for the fourth and fifth ODIs.
As it turned out, India won the series at Indore and eventually clinched it by winning 4 games.
So unstoppable has been this Indian cricket team’s juggernaut that they have now won 6 bilateral series in a row. After the loss in Champions Trophy, the Men in Blue have hammered the West Indies, blanked Sri Lanka and now completely bossed over Australia.
This Indian team is thriving under the aggressive and enthusiastic leadership of Virat Kohli. Every single individual has been assigned a role to play, and more importantly everyone is executing that role to the best of their ability.
The Top Order
This top order seems to be in the best possible shape in recent years. Ever since Rohit Sharma has taken up the opener’s role, his average has transformed to 54.
12 of his 14 hundreds have come as an opener. He finished the series against Australia with an average of 59.20 and also got his customary hundred against the Aussies.
Ajinkya Rahane has also been in scintillating form in Shikhar Dhawan’s absence. The Mumbai batsman scored 4 consecutive fifties in the 5-match series. He was also involved in three back-to-back century opening partnerships with Rohit Sharma.
It was confidently predicted that Shikhar Dhawan would make a comeback when he is available in the next series against New Zealand. However, Rahane has been so impressive against Australia and West Indies, that the Mumbaikar seems set to give the Delhiite tough competition for the opener’s slot for the upcoming series against New Zealand.
With Virat Kohli perched firmly at no. 3 and Rohit immovable as an opener, irrespective of whether Dhawan or Rahane filling up the other opener’s slot, the Indian top order looks set to run like a well-oiled machine.
India’s only loss at Bangalore against Australia was partially the result of a self-inflicted middle-order muddle.
Hardik Pandya’s promotion in Indore proved to be highly successful and the team management repeated it in Bangalore as well. Even Pandya, with his restrained approach, showed that he can keep a check on his temperament. If he keeps up, he can evolve into a player who can be influential at any spot in the middle-order.
However, promoting Pandya at no.4 means Manish Pandey and MS Dhoni will bat out of position. Let’s first look at Pandey’s case.
The 28-year-old Karnataka batsman, despite being part of all 10 seasons of the IPL and his evident talent, has played only 19 ODIs. With Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina both being out of India squad for quite some time, Pandey should have played more ODI matches.
When India won the series in Indore, Pandey should have walked out at no. 4 in all the remaining matches. The team management needs to test him at his best spot under different circumstances. If that does not happen, and unless he is assured of his place in the side, it will be unfair to someone who has been continuously hopping in and out of the side.
That brings us to MS Dhoni. Pandya’s promotion scrambled the middle order and inevitably Dhoni was forced back at no. 7 – a spot no longer suitable for him. The 36-year-old has changed his approach and now steadily steers his side rather than turbocharging it with big hitting. Hence, he is much more valuable to the team at no. 5, if not higher.
In Bangalore, because the team management sent Hardik Pandya at no. 4, India found itself with no big-hitter in the last 5-10 overs. Kedar Jadhav, with his resourcefulness at the start, is suitable at no. 6 while no. 7 is the best possible position for Hardik. Jadhav is capable of some big-hitting later on in his innings while Pandya, as we all know, can send them out of the park from ball one.
If Dhoni bats at no. 5 with his mind off big-hitting, then he can just be there, and shepherd Jadhav and Pandya.
India have plenty of talent in the middle order. However, the team management needs to solidify certain positions in the middle order. Yes, you need to have flexibility, but it should not create a cascading effect that would negate the success of the experiment.
The spin department had been lacking penetration in the middle overs. It was so apparent in the Champions Trophy that it became a serious concern.
So it was commendable from the selectors and the team management for picking Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal and Axar Patel. It has brought on some freshness in the spin department. The wrist-spin duo, in particular, mesmerised the Aussies in the ODI series.
The three spinners took total 16 wickets in the series at an economy rate of 5.5. They not only restricted the Australians in the middle overs, but also provided breakthroughs that were so crucial in winning the series.
Bowling in the middle overs has been the Men in Blue’s Achilles heel for such a long time and the team management seems to have found out the solution to this problem. This young spin trio has kept experienced Jadeja and Ashwin on the sidelines and looks set to continue with aplomb.
India’s fast bowling industry is booming at the moment. Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar are proving to be a very lethal combination at the start and also at the death.
The pace duo took 10 wickets at a frugal economy of 4.88 against Australia. With Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami included in the mix, India’s pace attack looks to have a sharpness that never really existed before.
India have developed a dependable pool of bowlers – both pace and spin – to match with their traditional batting firepower. The Men in Blue have already reached the no. 1 spot in the ICC Test and ODI rankings, but at the same time, they have been playing at home for most part of 2017.
For the next 18 months, India embarks on the tough away tours to South Africa, England and Australia. It’s now time for Team India to consolidate on the home success and gain experience in the overseas conditions to get ready for the ultimate goal - the World Cup 2019.