World Cup 2019: Should Vijay Shankar be dropped?
There are many issues being discussed by the fans ahead of the mouth-watering World Cup clash between the top two ODI sides of the world, England and India, on Sunday. Some of those issues include India's orange-and-blue jersey, Pakistan's possible elimination through an India loss and MS Dhoni's now-infamous slow starts in recent matches.
However, one cricketing issue that the Indian team management will seriously be mulling right now is the tottering middle-order of the only unbeaten side of the tournament.
This area of concern could make or break India's title hopes come the knockout stages, where one slip-up can prove fatal. Sure, India have one of the most complete sides in the tournament with a lethal bowling featuring Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav and two of the best top-order batsmen in the world in Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. But the skeletons tumble out once the top order departs.
Cruising, then struggling
With Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma hitting match-winning centuries and Virat Kohli holding the fort in classical fashion in the middle overs, India posted massive 300-plus totals against Australia and Pakistan.
But just when it seemed they were cruising as a batting unit, the struggles started - against Afghanistan and West Indies. Dhawan was already out with an injury and Sharma also departed early in these games followed by opening partner KL Rahul, and the slow rebuilding was done by Kohli with the rest of the middle order.
That was where the deficiencies in the segment came to light. Sticky pitches and tight bowling meant India hardly accelerated in the middle overs against Afghanistan. A similar tale could have unfolded against West Indies but a respectable score was reached courtesy some good late hitting by the veteran Dhoni.
The bone of contention
For a team that has historically boasted of legendary No. 4 batsmen, India really struggled to fill that slot in the lead-up to the tournament. KL Rahul seemed to have finally bagged it before his emergency promotion led to Vijay Shankar's inclusion in the team and his occupation of that spot.
While Shankar has got starts in this Cup, he is yet to make a substantial contribution to India's cause with the bat. He scored just 14 and 29 in those games where India's middle order were put to the test, and he has not inspired enough confidence to seal that spot.
With proven batsmen of class and experience occupying the bench in Rishabh Pant and Dinesh Karthik and with Ravindra Jadeja also waiting in the wings, should Shankar be made to give way to any of them?
The pros of dropping
The batting unit will definitely benefit from the wise shoulders of a Karthik or the flamboyance of a Pant. For a No. 4 Shankar definitely has a poor record, as he is yet to strike a half-century in the ODI game.
He has an average of 31.9 and a strike rate of about 90 from just 12 ODIs. He may mature into a finer player later, but the World Cup stage might be too intimidating for him right now.
India need more intent and aggressiveness in the middle order; the shackles they are finding themselves in might lead to a setback in the knockout stage.
The cons of dropping
Shankar is valued as a 3D player by the team management, which means he gives a good bowling option along with decent fielding attributes to the team. He showed his value with the ball by picking up a wicket with his first ever delivery in the World Cup, against Pakistan.
However, with the other bowlers winning India matches, he has not been required that much in recent games. Pant or Karthik, both 'keepers, won't be giving India that extra bowling option.
The final word
Well, that's for the team management to have. England beckons and so do the semis. And with another all-rounder Kedar Jadhav also not being a big value addition in the middle order and with Dhoni pacing his innings a bit differently, there is a bit of vulnerability in the middle order.
Will India opt to strengthen it through a team change, or maintain the bat-ball balance that Shankar provides? That is the million-dollar question.
Also read – World cup winners listPublished 29 Jun 2019, 14:30 IST