World Cup 2019: An out of form opening pair and opportunities for KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant
India is now just a couple of international games away for the marquee event, ICC Cricket World Cup 2019. Although there is the IPL in between, these are the last two games when the team will stay together.
The World Cup squad should have been finalised by now. This is the time where you actually give your best 11, the match practice they need. However, Virat Kohli and team management are still trying out different combinations.
The major problem in the last year was the inability of the middle over to win matches once the top-order failed. However, 2019 brought a breath of fresh air for the middle order. With MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav at the helm of affairs and in good form, the middle order conundrum seems to have solved for now.
The problem of middle order has now shifted to the top order. The formidable trio which was utterly consistent is now putting excessive pressure on the middle order with its erratic performances. While Virat Kohli is still continuing with his exceptional form, its the opening pair of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma which is a cause of concern for Team India.
People argue that India is too reliant on the top 3. However, its the job of the openers to provide a good start. They cannot expose the middle order quickly. You cannot be 3 for 27 in an above 300 run chase and blame the middle and lower order for the defeat.
Below are the averages of opening pair of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan in the last few ODI series:
India v/s West Indies 2018: 22 (5 innings)
Australia v/s India 2018-19: 21 (3 innings)'
New Zealand v/s India 2019: 52.6(5 innings)
India v/s Australia 2019: 5 (3 innings)
Besides New Zealand, where both got a couple of good scores, the Indian opening pair has nothing to show. After the Asia Cup, India has consistently failed to put together a good opening partnership.
While Rohit has managed to get a good score somewhere or the other, Dhawan is going through a really lean patch. He has got just 2 fifty plus scores and an average of below 30 in his last 18 ODI innings. This is now not one or two bad series but a consistent rough patch.
Rohit perhaps is a class act and has immense talent. He might not be under so much pressure. The pressure is on Dhawan. He's a match-winner but for the World Cup, the form is superior to reputation.
Waiting in the wings is the talented KL Rahul who has found his form which he lost after the IPL 2018. Although he did not get match-winning scores in the two T20I games against Australia, he showed why this team backs him so much.
However, he has not achieved anything noteworthy in ODI cricket yet. He has just 317 runs in 13 matches at an average of 35. He is most likely to be the back-up opener for India. For that, he needs to be given an opportunity in the last two ODI matches against Australia. If he performs exceptionally, he might even start as the main opener in the World Cup.
Another player who is waiting for his chance in Rishabh Pant. Sanjay Bangar confirmed that MS Dhoni will be rested in the remaining two ODIs. So he's a direct replacement for the remainder of this series. His keeping will also be under the scanner because he is looked at as India's back-up keeper.
He also has a lot of talent but has received criticism for his tendency to throw his wicket away at the wrong time. If he wants a place in the middle order over, players like Ambati Rayudu, he needs to perform a lot more consistently and make the most of the opportunity that the team gives him.