India have started their World Cup campaign on a good note with resounding victories over major challengers South Africa, Australia and Pakistan. The only blip came due to no fault of their own as the match against New Zealand got washed off due to this World Cup's frequent nemesis, rains.
However, as brilliant as their on-field performances have been, India have been tackling a major internal problem that threatens to derail their charge towards the title.
That issue is a persistent tide of injuries that seems to show no signs of abatement. First to fall by the wayside was Shikhar Dhawan with a hairline fracture in one of his fingers that was a major setback for India's plans. Dhawan, who had hit a match-winning century against Australia in the same match, posted an emotional message on social media after learning that he won't be fit in time to participate further in the tournament.
Another cruel loss mid-game against Pakistan was that of prime swing-bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar who hurt his hamstring in his delivery stride due to wet conditions in Old Trafford. Misfortune continued to follow the team as it was the turn of Vijay Shankar, who impressed against Pakistan after being drafted into the side once Dhawan was ruled out. Shankar picked up a freak blow to his foot from a Jasprit Bumrah yorker during net practice and is said to be struggling to be fit for the next game against Afghanistan on Saturday.
Dhawan, who is a proven match-winner, comes into his best form at ICC tournaments and looked in fine nick. His left-right partnership with the brilliant Rohit Sharma was one of the best opening combinations in the tournament and, in a way, he is irreplaceable. India have been forced to promote KL Rahul to the opener's slot in his stead. Rahul is a capable stroke-maker and struck up a good opening partnership with Sharma against Pakistan but his promotion created problems further down the order.
India's major bone of contention before the tournament began was the No.4 slot and Rahul seemed to have filled it up before Dhawan got injured. Shankar, an all-rounder, had been slotted into that position but the jury will still be out regarding his ability to deliver at that vital position.
However, Shankar did well against Pakistan, especially with the ball and if he is out for a while then a bowling option will definitely be lost. Rishabh Pant, undoubtedly an exciting talent, will probably come into the side if Shankar is out; he is a much more destructive batsman than Shankar but cannot bowl. The other option is the veteran Dinesh Karthik, but he, like Pant, is a wicket-keeper batsman and India would ideally like Shankar to return to action.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar is also a major loss and he might be out for two to three games during a crucial phase. The most likely replacement for him would be Mohammed Shami who is himself an excellent pacer.
However, this spate of injuries will be the cause of furrowed brows for Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri because the winning combination is getting hampered at every step of the way which is extremely unfortunate in a major tournament.