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sandeep
As cricket's flagship global tournament stumbles and trundles through its league stage in England, one thing is becoming nakedly obvious.  There is a gaping quality gap between the top 5 teams in the tournament compared to the rest.   So much so, that the gap between the top 3 to 5 associates, and the bottom 5 "test" teams in the WC is much smaller.  This fact was re-inforced by the manner in which the West Indies managed to squeak through the qualifiers and make its way into the World Cup - an eventuality that only occurred due to the dual divine intervention of weather and a poor umpiring decision. 
 
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that either of Scotland, Ireland, Zimbabwe would be extremely competitive against the likes of Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, or even Pakistan.   The latter, on their "bad days" of which there seem to be increasingly many.  However, this little write-up isn't about the injustice meted out to the teams that missed out on the WC - as legitimate as that grievance is.  My concern is with the yawning quality gap between the handful of teams at the top vs the other 'test' member nations in cricket.  Given the structural and financial constructs of global cricket, odds are that such a gap not only exists, but threatens to solidify into permanence and potentially widen. 
 
Such an outcome may provide some gleeful entertainment for fans in the short-term, as historic rivalries tamely meander towards a cycle of repeated beat-downs, it is clear that this is an existential threat to the sport as it exists today.  The reality of cricket is that for national teams to be competitive at the highest levels, they need to stand on a foundation of a deep and healthy domestic first class cricket structure.  It is not a co-incidence that the top 3 teams likely to make the semi-finals are the socalled "big 3" - happen to be the ones with the best and sustainable domestic cricket structures.  As competitive as the kiwis have been in this WC - their domestic system is far from stable, and South Africa are on the cusp of heading the same way.  The domestic cricket challenges and problems in West Indies and Sri Lanka are well-known and have been moaned about for donkeys' years.  And let's not even get started on the shambles that is the Pakistani set-up.  Which is about to undergo its umpteenth "reform" by a self-styled savior with good intentions.  Its a hapless repetition of the same approach, albeit with a man at the top whose intentions are beyond reproach.  But in spite of that, it is eminently foolish to expect different results when you are doing the same thing over and over.  However well-meaning the current leaders of Pakistan Cricket are, they are more or less doomed to essentially the same results, unless Pakistan's national fortunes beyond cricket manage to improve - an outcome even more unlikely than me winning the lottery.  And I don't even buy lottery tickets.  
 
I am not choosing to dwell on Pakistan's misfortunes only to kick a "rival" when they are down.  Pakistan is a good example of a team with a large sustainable market behind them, and one that is relatively well-funded.  It is simplistic, and inaccurate, to point the finger at the ICC or the "Pig 3" and attribute the dysfunctional domestic systems to a lack of resources.  Pakistan has hundreds of millions of passionate fans, a legacy of supportive sponsors.  Sri Lanka has a steady income stream from a steady diet of LOI games hosted against India.  i.e. Its not just the money. 
 
Extrapolate the current situation a few years out, and the gap between the 'haves' and 'have-nots' may end up in a death-spiral.  Like anything else, if you are not growing, then by definition, you are shrinking.  Even cricket's golden goose - the masses of Indian fans, may start getting weary if the team runs out of quality opponents to root against.  Accepting the status quo, is essentially accepting an outcome where Franchise T20 inevitably becomes the primary format of the sport, with national cricket relegated to occasional tournaments, global or otherwise. 
 
So "TL;DR", my point in this write-up, is to ask this question - how can the ICC assist its member boards in stabilizing and improving their domestic first class cricket systems?  Till date, the ICC has functioned as a loose federation of member boards, and its actual executive powers are limited to administrating global tournaments and rules.  I think the time has come for the ICC to recognize this enormous threat to cricket's sustainable future and work on potential solutions.   That the ICC is a toothless tiger, and powerless to enforce its will onto the first class cricket structures of its member boards, is a given.  But it is well within their abilities, even financially, to come up with a detailed proposal outlining best practices and minimum standards that can demonstrate the pathway to a healthy domestic cricket setup. 
 
Given limitations of weather, facilities, resources, what should be the breakdown of the number of games by format be?  To what degree should 4-day cricket be prioritized?  Should young players be shielded from T20 cricket so that they develop their foundational cricket skills until a later date?  What is the bests way to create feeder systems at lower levels - lower divisions club cricket, university and school cricket - that can bring and keep the game in touch with its grass roots, while creating the player supply for a healthy and competitive First-Class setup?  These are questions that need to be answered by all countries.  Not just the struggling ones.  The least that the ICC can do, is provide a basic primer that can serve as an ideal to aim at, if not attain and surpass.  Such a proposal would be helpful, not only to the likes of SL, WI, Afg, but also to the top tier of associate cricket nations - Scotland, Ireland, Nepal, USA etc.  
 
As of now, each member nation is left to its own devices and plans, to devise and structure their first-class cricket.   And of course, there is no way for the ICC to come up with a "one size fits all" plan, given the diversity of variables faced by the different countries - from USA to Nepal.  But, there are enough common problems out there, faced by almost all cricket teams, test and associates, that a properly designed 'template' for First-class Cricket could make a genuine difference.  At a minimum, it would empower the well-wishers of the sport to hold their national boards to some degree of accountability. 
 
Think about a franchise business model - a 7-11 convenience store, or a fast food restaurant.  Each individual location is often independently owned and operated, but they get major guidance in how to structure and operate their business.  Obviously those franchise models benefit from stringent ownership rules that allow the central authority to mandate compliance, but absent such explicit authority, the ICC is well within its rights and scope, to show the way. 
 
Ultimately, the fate and competitiveness of teams rest with the competency of their national cricket boards.  Maybe we will see some creative solutions emerge in the future, potentially even along the lines suggested here on this forum. 

SK_IH
It was the year 2000, I was just another Indian kid who watched and played cricket with much pleasure. I switched on ESPN and saw India playing Kenya and a young tall left arm spinner bowling, so I assumed there is another spinner in the team to augment Anil Kumble. Obviously at that age (10), I was not a keen follower like today, completely unbeknownst of the fact that ICC Champions Trophy (known as knockout trophy at that time) was under way and India had won its first match defeating the hosts. It quickly dawned upon me however in the following match when Sachin had a smashing start against Mcgrath, that this was notjust yet another  cricket tournament. India lost wickets and in came this tall left arm spinner again. Another fact dawned upon me that this player might be a batsman. Thereafter I just remember crisp drives down the ground and stylish flicks against an Australian bowling attack comprising Lee, Gillespie and an exasperated Steve Waugh (apart from the great Mcgrath) and when finally  he got out on 84 runs of 80 balls, me and may be most of Indian cricket fans warmed to Yuvraj Singh.
I had become a fan, in the following match Yuvraj flamboyantly smashed the potent SA attack displaying uber confidence seldom seen in Indian cricketers of that era ( I had torrid memories of Jacob Martin, Sameer Dighe, T Kumaran et al making unspectacular debuts not long ago). India did not end up winning the trophy, Chris Cairns ruined my day, however Ganguly had unearthed Yuvraj Singh. Next week, while surfing channels I suddenly see Indian team in the field again, this time in the different continent, in the desert of Emirates. India lost that tournament funnily and ironically called the Champions Trophy. India were shadow of their selves, in sharp contrast to the original Champions Trophy they had dominated a week earlier and more disappointingly Yuvraj was feeble. Watching him bat against the mystery of Muralitharan was an unedifying sight and so came a conclusion Yuvraj struggles against the turning ball. 
India played lots of cricket in the following season but Yuvraj was not the central figure, to even more disenchantment he was dropped all together. He became an irregular member of the team, however there was this defiant back to the wall effort against SL at their cricketing citadel SSC, Colombo, which is still etched in memory. But the infrequent place in the side finally led to omission. Yuvraj was forgotten but not for long.
Indian one day performances and luck seemed to dwindling when India contrived to go 2-1 down against an average Zimbabwe in early 2002. Yuvraj had just made a comeback and once again I was unaware of that occurrence. India were in trouble, staring down the barrel of a series loss, at home. But Yuvraj led way and rescued India (first of many such instances ) with his U19 mate Kaif and one match later salvaged India's home record, as he pulverized Zimbabwe with a brutal 75, batting the hapless Zimbabwe out of the series. Now Yuvraj  had the performances to go with the enormous backing of his endearing captain.
July 13, 2002 was not a watershed for Yuvraj alone but also for India' ODI fortunes. Repeated failures in the finals had become the identity of Ganguly led Indian team, but it was dispelled temporarily when Yuvraj in company with Kaif did what was the supposed impossible. India had won the tournament, wherein Yuvraj had starred, interestingly with both bat and ball, not to forget his acrobatic fielding skills hitherto not seen in Indian cricket. His player of the match performance in the first game of the tournament was testament to that fact, a half century with 3 wickets to boot. Yuvraj Singh was now a bonafide star, let alone a certainty. I had become an even bigger fan, Indian team was winning, the dynamics, team ethos had changed, diffident team of late 99 and early 2000 was a thing of the past.
Yuvraj scored his maiden ODI century the following year and another one against Australia which excruciatingly was not enough to win India the match but the elegant southpaw was still seeking consistency of performances. He was still a second tier performer, a patch on the enormous talent he was purportedly possessing. However, he eventually came of age with a string of 3 consecutive Man of the tournament performances in the season 2005-2006, in process flaying Pakistan teaming up with Dhoni (a partnership which was to become one of the most successful  in ODI cricket, certainly my favourite ) and continuing his supremacy of England, his most endearing opponent. Yuvraj was now elite, powerful middle order batsman and India's lifeline along with the then savage MS Dhoni. It was the year of Champions Trophy again, the tournament which had brought Yuvraj to limelight. India were top contenders not because it was being staged in India but also owing to India's tremendous ODI run leading upto the tournament. However, Yuvraj and India had a major misfortune (it was not going to be first of his career), Yuvraj suffered a knee injury caused while playing a frivolous after practice activity. Such had become his aura in limited overs setup, India looked fragile and results were unsatisfactory. Yuvraj recuperated and came back for the ill- fated World Cup in 2007. India endured the indignity of first round exit but Yuvraj was back.
2007 was to be the year of Yuvraj. MS Dhoni, surprisingly named the captain of an Indian team denuded of 3 stalwarts for the inaugural World T20, termed Yuvraj as India's trump card in the pre-tournament presser. The Indian captain was not far off as Yuvraj lighted up the event with hitting of unbelievable quality. Most were still in afterglow of Yuvraj's astonishing achievement of dispatching six sixes in an over of frazzled Stuart Broad, when he obliterated an all pace attack of Australia in the semi final with such disdain, not endured by that all conquering Australian side  in many a years. India won the semis, Australians had been nudged out by Yuvraj (he did an encore 4 years later) and eventually the WorldT20 title defeating the arch rivals Pakistan in a closely contested match. Yuvraj had now joined the pantheon of Indian legends, his name was part of India’s folklore, winning an ICC event brings those attendant attributes.
ODI distinction notwithstanding, Yuvraj was still seeking a permanent spot in that lustrous Indian test middle order. Hopes of that attainment were seemingly realized when Yuvraj continued his penchant for scoring test centuries against Pakistan (3rd in 3 years) in an innings of 169 in 2007, replete with shots of supreme class. By dint of that performance, Yuvraj found his way in that elusive test middle order ahead of classy VVS Laxman for the subsequent Indian tour down under. However, the test demons remained unconquered, same technical frailties reappeared and it was unfortunately much the same when it came to test exploits thereafter. Yuvraj never really became a test player.
Things were not particularly rosy on the limited overs front as well when Yuvraj was summarily dropped from ODI side for the Asia Cup, a year before 2011 World Cup.  I, was thinking the unthinkable, Yuvraj may not make it to the World Cup playing XI after all. As things unfolded, he became India’s most influential player in the tournament which India won and his all round performances earning him the coveted Player of the Tournament award. MS Dhoni, his friend and most lethal ally, always considered Yuvraj to be a colossal match winner in short formats and he betrayed that belief by promoting the left hander in one of early matches in the tournament and the southpaw repayed the faith with a sparking half century. He eventually ended the tournament with 15 wickets and 5 fifty plus scores, most of them in adversity, the zenith of which was when Yuvraj finally drove Australia out of the World Cup for first time since 1996, the year I started watching cricket. Australian juggernaut had been halted and there was no stopping India, propelled by Yuvraj the bowler in subsequent knock out matches, India became World Champions and Yuvraj became immortal.
Six months in cricket is a long time, sometimes its enough time for a settled cricket team to disintegrate. So it happened with this World Cup winning Team India, it was a cascade of gigantic proportions. Exaction of test numero uno status notwithstanding, consecutive test defeats amounted to a mortifying eight. Indian team was going through the motions and were without Yuvraj, still recovering from non-malignant lung tumour, an ailment that had kept the World Cup champion out of all ODI matches played since the World Cup triumph. As it transpired, Yuvraj missed the annual tri nation tournament in Australia. In midst of the series , the news broke Yuvraj had been diagnosed with cancer, the shockwaves were alike for his team mates and transfixed fans like me.
Not for the first time though, Yuvraj made a comeback this time putting aside his debilitating affliction and life was back on the track. Not surprisingly the comeback in cricket was not far off, there were glitters of brilliance, shades of prime, that backlift, that flow, those sixes but it was still not the same. Yuvraj was not the same. India most definitely got deprived of some more years of Yuvi magic. But Yuvraj had already done enough to remain etched in the annals of Indian cricket history.
All the best Yuvi!!!

zen
In the 2015 World Cup, the England-Bangladesh group game was a virtual pre-quarterfinal. The winner of the game was to be rewarded with a place in the knock out phase in a tournament where the top 8 sides, if they played to their potential, were guaranteed a spot in the next stage. But Bangladesh managed to go past England to secure the spot. The loss, which was 2nd against Bangladesh in World Cups in the 2010s, forced England to review its world cup game. 
 
Traditionally, England is a team that is more focused on test cricket. With only a handful of nations playing competitive cricket, England did not have to work hard to secure a spot in knockouts at the limited overs world events. It made the knock out stage in the first four world cups, playing the final in two of those four events. The 90s saw the emergence of Sri Lanka as a limited overs powerhouse, while South Africa returned to international cricket. The competitive landscape in limited overs had changed. In world events, the acceptable metric is to reach the last four. Since 1992, England has not been in the last four of the ODI World Cups. However, it should be noted that among the failures in ODI World Cups, England has won the T20 World Cup and reached the final of Champions Trophy in 2004. 
 
In 2015, the think tanks in England sat down to redraw boundaries by thinking outside the box with the goal to win the 2019 World Cup which was to be played at home. The 2010s have seen the host countries triumph. India beat the co-host Sri Lanka in 2011 final, and Australia achieved a similar feat by beating co-host New Zealand in 2015. The 2011 and 2015 finals were played in India and Australia respectively. If the trend of home teams winning the world cup in this decade is to continue, England would have a great chance in 2019 if it is able to put together a team that can play competitive cricket. 
 
In the past, England rewarded players with good performances in tests with a place in white ball cricket. Now it would need to shift its focus to ODI specialists. Among other concerns, chasing totals has been an Achilles heel. It lost three finals (1979, 1987, and 1992) while batting second. England also lacks All-Time-Great (ATG) level bowlers such as McGrath and Warne. 
 
As saying goes – If you are average, you get bad results. If you are good, you get average results. If you are great, you get good results. To get great results, you have to be excellent. While England had good bowlers, it had the opportunity to develop some excellent batsmen and all-rounders. The strategy moving forward was to concentrate on the strengths to turn the ODI team into a batting powerhouse to cover for both the lack of ATG level bowlers and account for the past failures to chase down totals. Over the last four years, England put together a team that can not only put mammoth totals on board but also pursue big totals. 
 
To develop into a batting powerhouse, England has also thrown convention out of the window. Its batsmen have revitalized cricket by playing a brand of fearless cricket. Traditionally, a wicket lost puts pressure on the batting side. By developing batting depth, England has taken that concern out of equation relatively. For example, if the top 4 batsmen fail, the opposition would need to deal with the dangerous Jos Buttler, along with a lower order that can strike big hits in at will. While the bowling is relatively weak, it is still competitive. To illustrate, players like Jofra Archer are drafted to give the attack wicket taking abilities. Bowlers like Liam Plunkett are known to create wicket-taking opportunities in the middle overs. 
 
Today (June 8th, 2019), England played its group game against Bangladesh, which was seeking to complete the hat-trick of wins in ODI World Cups against England. In its last game, England narrowly lost to the underdog Pakistan, chasing the mammoth 348. The silver lining in that loss is that not many teams would have gotten this close to such a mammoth total. The loss also highlighted the need to sharpen up the fielding.  In today’s game, England needed to bounce back from that narrow loss to take on an improved Bangladesh, which has enjoyed success against it lately in such events. Having put into bat first, England scored 386 and went on to beat Bangladesh by 106 runs. With this win, England has not only bounced back from the loss in the last game but also gone past its nemesis in World Cups this decade. England has shown the ability to learn from its mistakes and improve its game. This success and approach probably point towards the rise of "New" England in ODIs. 

While England can claim to be the strongest side in this world cup, it needs to be aware that the strongest teams do not always win the tournament. Examples of failures to get past the hurdles include West Indies in 1983 and England itself in 1987 and 1992. New Zealand played the best cricket in 1992 but failed to lift the trophy. South Africa too appeared unstoppable in 1999. In this world cup, England has cards staked in its favor. To win, England should continue to trust its game, play fearlessly, and more importantly enjoy its cricket. If it is able to achieve that it is difficult to see England not being crowned as the 2019 world champion.  
 
 
 


vvvslaxman
Here we go! The moment has arrived. World cup favorites took on World cup favorites for the last 2 decades (except this edition of course) England team managed to assemble a team that will finally win them the elusive world cup title. It is a bit like assembling a Japanese car in America. Parts from different part of the world. No rain threat. Bright sunny day. SA won the toss and elected to lose. Faf’s thought process was probably influenced by the knowledge of how effortlessly England have been chasing in recent times. They forgot to take it into account that this is a world cup where runs on the board is always a safer option.
 
Anyway, World cup kicked off in style except of course for Bairstow and the team that is going to face Bairstow in the next match. Didn’t deter Jason Roy and their resident consolidator Joe Root. They steadied the ship until Phelu got rid of Jason Roy with a short one and three balls later Rabada threw one wide which Root managed to slap it straight to point. For some teams, this is a major collapse. Not so much for England. Morgan and Stokes took the onus and raise another century partnership. With 14 overs left Morgan holed out. Butler was in. Expected carnage didn’t happen. Butler left after a brief partnership with Stokes. Soon Amla’s counterpart left the crease. It was left to the tail to take them to a decent total. Their thoughts of getting to 500 vanished thick and fast. They huffed and puffed their way to 311 on the back of Stokes’s 97. Rabada didn’t exactly provide the kind of penetration at the death. Taken for plenty. At one point they looked like getting to 400, then 350, then 325.. then 290 and ended up reaching 311. So both teams looked happy halfway stage. Bowlers did their bit in the death in the absence of Steyn
 
Response by South Africa didn’t exactly pan out well in a scary way. Amla took a blow to his helmet and ended up leaving the ground failing the concussion Test. Markram who expressed his surprise at his selection for the world cup, batted briefly and got out to Archer and showed us why he was surprised at his own selection. The onus was on the captain to resurrect the innings along with De Kock. Archer drew the second blood for his newly adopted country. Technically third blood. Faf couldn’t keep the ball down while pulling to deep square leg. The writing was pretty much on the wall for them. But defiant Van der Dussen and De Kock resurrected the innings with a counterattacking partnership. Right about the time when SA looked like they were going to pull off a miracle, they decided self-destruction is the way to go. Lost 3 quick wickets for very few runs. First De Kock couldn’t capitalize on a rubbish ball from Plunkett and managed to hole out in deep. Pretorious showed his inexperience by calling for a non-existent 2nd run and got run out. Then it was Duminy’s turn to have a brain fade. A low percentage of lofted shot to long off. That didn’t stop there. Van der dussen thought it was a great idea to take on the best bowler for England on that day. Another batsman holed out. He was followed by Phelu. Although wicket was taken by Rashid, full credit should go to Stokes who plucked the ball out of thin air in Ninja style. Implosion continued and their misery ended before 40 overs.
 
With the inclusion of Archer England looks more potent than before. Two of their top batsmen failed in this match. 4 of them got the fifties. I expect them to come out guns blazing in the next match. Looking forward to England’s next encounter.

zen
In the past, India has usually banked on the 6 Batsmen + 1 WK + 4 Bowlers combination. Depending on the pitch, India would play either 1 spinner or 2 spinners among the 4 specialist bowling slots. These 4 bowlers would be supported by batsmen who had extraordinary bowling skills such as Sehwag, Tendulkar and Ganguly. The 6th batsman, whether it was VVS Laxman or Ganguly, was impactful and among the best talents in the country.
 
For reference, below is the talent pool available for batting slots in the 1990-2014 period: 
View overall figures [change view] Primary team India  Opposition team Australia  or England  or New Zealand  or Pakistan  or South Africa  or Sri Lanka  or West Indies  Start of match date between 1 Jan 1990 and 31 Dec 2014  Qualifications runs scored greater than or equal to 2000  and batting average greater than or equal to 40  Ordered by batting average (descending) Page 1 of 1 Showing 1 - 10 of 10   First Previous Next  Last  Return to query menu
Cleared query menu Overall figures Player Span Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave 100 50 0   SR Tendulkar 1990-2013 180 300 28 13968 241* 51.35 43 63 13 R Dravid 1996-2012 147 261 27 11726 270 50.11 30 57 6 V Sehwag 2001-2013 96 168 4 8151 319 49.70 23 28 16 CA Pujara 2010-2014 27 48 4 2073 206* 47.11 6 6 1 VVS Laxman 1996-2012 125 213 32 8384 281 46.32 16 55 14 NS Sidhu 1990-1999 36 53 0 2450 201 46.22 7 11 5 M Azharuddin 1990-2000 62 92 6 3932 192 45.72 15 12 3 V Kohli 2011-2014 32 57 4 2354 169 44.41 9 10 4 SC Ganguly 1996-2008 99 169 16 6311 239 41.24 13 31 12 G Gambhir 2004-2014 50 91 3 3521 206 40.01 7 19 6  
 
Bowling during the 1990-2014 period:
View overall figures [change view] Primary team India  Opposition team Australia  or England  or New Zealand  or Pakistan  or South Africa  or Sri Lanka  or West Indies  Start of match date between 1 Jan 1990 and 31 Dec 2014  Qualifications wickets taken greater than or equal to 100  Ordered by bowling average (ascending) Page 1 of 1 Showing 1 - 7 of 7   First Previous Next  Last  Return to query menu
Cleared query menu Overall figures Player Span Mat Inns Overs Mdns Runs Wkts BBI BBM Ave Econ SR 5 10   R Ashwin 2011-2014 23 42 1160.4 226 3403 114 7/103 12/85 29.85 2.93 61.0 9 2 PP Ojha 2009-2013 23 46 1234.1 293 3294 109 6/47 10/89 30.22 2.66 67.9 7 1 A Kumble 1990-2008 121 216 6357.0 1447 17248 566 10/74 14/149 30.47 2.71 67.3 33 8 J Srinath 1991-2002 58 103 2153.4 500 6269 203 8/86 13/132 30.88 2.91 63.6 9 1 Harbhajan Singh 1998-2013 91 166 4310.0 779 12323 376 8/84 15/217 32.77 2.85 68.7 24 5 Z Khan 2001-2014 79 139 2759.0 559 8921 259 5/29 9/134 34.44 3.23 63.9 9 0 I Sharma 2007-2014 58 101 2003.3 373 6716 177 7/74 10/108 37.94 3.35 67.9 6 1  
 
WKs during the 1990-2014 period:
View overall figures [change view] Primary team India  Opposition team Australia  or England  or New Zealand  or Pakistan  or South Africa  or Sri Lanka  or West Indies  Start of match date between 1 Jan 1990 and 31 Dec 2014  Wicketkeeper as designated wicketkeeper  Qualifications runs scored greater than or equal to 500  Ordered by batting average (descending) Page 1 of 1 Showing 1 - 4 of 4   First Previous Next  Last  Return to query menu
Cleared query menu Overall figures Player Span Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave 100 50 0   MS Dhoni 2005-2014 87 140 14 4683 224 37.16 6 31 10 PA Patel 2002-2008 20 30 7 683 69 29.69 0 4 4 KS More 1990-1993 20 25 5 546 73 27.30 0 5 2 NR Mongia 1994-2001 43 66 8 1441 152 24.84 1 6 5  
 
To summarize the 1990-2014 period: 
Great pool of batting talent, many of whom had good secondary skills in bowling  Bowling talent pool was relatively limited. The bowling averages are 30 or more, while the SR is 61+  Those playing as WKs averaged less than 40, which did not strengthen the batting as desired. Gilchrist, the benchmark, averaged 46 when you exclude BD and Zim    
 
Therefore in the 1990-2014, India had a strong case of playing the extra batsman, who was among the best talents in the country and when a bunch of those playing as batsmen could bowl effectively too as the 5th bowler. 
 
 
Let us look at the numbers from 2015 to Present period. 
 
Batting
View overall figures [change view] Primary team India  Opposition team Australia  or England  or New Zealand  or Pakistan  or South Africa  or Sri Lanka  or West Indies  Start of match date greater than or equal to 1 Jan 2015  Qualifications runs scored greater than or equal to 500  and batting average greater than or equal to 40  Ordered by batting average (descending) Page 1 of 1 Showing 1 - 4 of 4   First Previous Next  Last  Return to query menu
Cleared query menu Overall figures Player Span Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 0 4s 6s   V Kohli 2015-2019 43 71 4 4003 243 59.74 6768 59.14 15 10 4 425 10 CA Pujara 2015-2019 39 63 3 3181 202 53.01 7186 44.26 12 12 5 358 7 RR Pant 2018-2019 9 15 1 696 159* 49.71 943 73.80 2 2 1 70 17 RG Sharma 2015-2018 17 30 5 1009 102* 40.36 1810 55.74 1 9 1 86 25  
 
Bowling
View overall figures [change view] Primary team India  Opposition team Australia  or England  or New Zealand  or Pakistan  or South Africa  or Sri Lanka  or West Indies  Start of match date greater than or equal to 1 Jan 2015  Qualifications wickets taken greater than or equal to 20  Ordered by bowling average (ascending) Page 1 of 1 Showing 1 - 9 of 9   First Previous Next  Last  Return to query menu
Cleared query menu Overall figures Player Span Mat Inns Overs Mdns Runs Wkts BBI BBM Ave Econ SR 5 10   B Kumar 2015-2018 9 17 252.1 67 730 34 5/33 8/96 21.47 2.89 44.5 2 0 JJ Bumrah 2018-2019 10 20 402.4 95 1073 49 6/33 9/86 21.89 2.66 49.3 3 0 RA Jadeja 2015-2019 27 52 1259.5 316 2998 135 7/48 10/154 22.20 2.37 55.9 7 1 R Ashwin 2015-2018 39 74 1791.2 374 4972 212 7/59 13/140 23.45 2.77 50.6 16 5 Kuldeep Yadav 2017-2019 6 10 164.5 22 579 24 5/57 6/119 24.12 3.51 41.2 2 0 A Mishra 2015-2016 9 18 267.4 44 853 33 4/43 7/72 25.84 3.18 48.6 0 0 Mohammed Shami 2015-2019 29 56 848.2 160 2700 103 6/56 6/74 26.21 3.18 49.4 3 0 I Sharma 2015-2018 26 49 736.3 164 2001 73 5/51 8/86 27.41 2.71 60.5 2 0 UT Yadav 2015-2018 27 54 714.5 138 2367 70 6/88 10/133 33.81 3.31 61.2 1 1  
 
To summarize the 2015 to Present period: 
Only 4 batsmen average 40 or more. Rishabh Pant, who plays as the WK averages close to 50. Rohit Sharma's average is more condition dependent. We do not have batsmen who can serve as the 5th bowler like what some of those mentioned used to in the past  Almost all bowlers average less than 30 and also have a SR of less than 61. Though the performances of spinners and bowlers such as Bhuvneshwar Kumar are condition dependent. Unlike in the past, Bowling is the key strength for India   With Pant, we have a WK whose batting can be leveraged much like Gilchrist's   
 
Therefore, by playing the 6th batsman, who many times is more like a glorified nightwatchman, we are not necessarily strengthening our line up. The WK Pant performs better than the 6th batsman. Our bowling is more focused on picking wickets, which means that they prefer to be used in relatively shorter spells where they can bowl with all their force rather than bowling within themselves to get more overs in. To keep these bowlers relatively fresh and keep bowling them at their full force, the role of the 5th bowler gets paramount. 
 
Considering that now we have a) a WK that has the ability to average 40+, and b) batsmen who do not bowl that often and those playing as the 6th batsman produce diminishing returns, the best way to add the 5th bowler is to play an Allrounder (AR), who can add value to both bowling and batting. 
 
 
Hardik Pandya 
 
Among ARs, Hardik Pandya is unique in the sense that he not only has the ability to hit test 100s and change the game with his batting abilities, but also bowl at 140+. As a fielder, he is also among the best in the country. 
 
Below is Pandya's performance so far in Test cricket: 
Records type all-round analysis [change type] View series averages [change view] Ordered by start date (ascending) Return to query menu
Cleared query menu Career averages   Mat Runs HS Bat Av 100 Wkts BBI Bowl Av 5 Ct St Ave Diff   overall 11 532 108 31.29 1 17 5/28 31.05 1 7 0 0.23  
 
Pandya in matches won:
Records type all-round analysis [change type] View series averages [change view] Match result won match  Ordered by start date (ascending) Return to query menu
Cleared query menu Career averages   Mat Runs HS Bat Av 100 Wkts BBI Bowl Av 5 Ct St Ave Diff   unfiltered 11 532 108 31.29 1 17 5/28 31.05 1 7 0 0.23 Profile filtered 6 323 108 46.14 1 10 5/28 18.70 1 6 0 27.44  
 
For someone in his first season, the stats are good as:
Pandya has mostly played in difficult batting conditions in SA and Eng, where many specialist batsmen have averages much less. In Asia, he averages 60+ with the bat. And has a 50+ score in each of the series he has played in   Pandya, a pace bowler, has bowled mostly with a relatively soft ball to bowl overs when the new ball is around the corner. His bowling average and SR improve when he bowls with a relatively hard ball where he won India a test in Eng with a career best of 5/28   
 
With most of the other ARs, we see that they have a dominant primary skill. Pandya is also unique as he does not appear to have a dominant primary skill.  Since he is equally good at both batting and bowling, one challenge for him would be to figure out the area of his main focus. Because he would be more of a 4th or 5th bowler, my recommendation is that he focus more on his batting. Pandya could use someone like Gilchrist, who is an WK AR and a flamboyant batsman who can change the game with his batting when playing in the lower middle batting order, as a reference for performances in tests. 
 
 
Another AR who much like Pandya is equally good in both departments in Jason Holder. Below is how Jason Holder performed in his first two years: 
Records type all-round analysis [change type] View series averages [change view] Opposition team Australia  or England  or India  or New Zealand  or Pakistan  or South Africa  or Sri Lanka Start of match date less than or equal to 26 Jun 2016  Ordered by start date (ascending) Return to query menu
Cleared query menu Career averages   Mat Runs HS Bat Av 100 Wkts BBI Bowl Av 5 Ct St Ave Diff   unfiltered 36 1761 202* 33.86 3 88 6/59 28.29 5 28 0 5.56 Profile filtered 13 546 103* 27.30 1 21 3/15 39.00 0 10 0 -11.69  
 
The above shows us that unique ARs need some time to develop. ARs do not always appear ready made. Once such talent is identified, teams have to make an effort to develop them. Once developed, they become a force to be reckoned with as they can win their team games both with the bat and the ball. 
 
 
Considering the various points discussed with respect to current talent pool in batting, bowling and wicket keeping, Pandya should be played in tests especially on batting friendly and sporting pitches. By playing Tests, Pandya will improve as a cricketer which will help India in LOIs as well. 
 
The Pant-Pandya combination slotted at 6-7 is impactful and has the potential to become a game changer for India. With that, India can optimize its 5 batting and 4 bowling slots. To me, an optimized Test line up for 2020s appears like the one below: 
 
Agarwal
Shaw
Pujara
Kohli
Gill
Pant
Pandya
Pacer / Spinner per conditions
Kuldeep (can be developed as a most conditions spinner) 
Shami (Wicket taking pace bowler)
Bumrah (Wicket taking pace bowler) 
 
Currently, Shaw, Gill, Pant, Panyda, Kuldeep and Bumrah are among the best talents in the country and 25 years old or less. If India invests in them, it can reap great rewards in near future  
 
 
References / Acknowledgements: 
Cricinfo for stats / numbers   
 

Austin 3:!6
India - 107/10 (35.2 overs)
 
After an exciting 1st test, all eyes were on Lords when these two top teams locked horns again. But the fun was spoiled by persistent rain on 1st day when the game got called off. Joe Root for England won the toss on 2nd day and asked India to bat in most hostile rainy overcast conditions. The duke ball swung throughout the day and Indian batsmen looked clueless against some top bowling. 
 
India made two changes which were along the expected lines. Shikar Dhawan and Umesh Yadav were dropped for Cheteshwar Pujara and an additional spinner in the form of Kuldeep Yadav. However, changing the opening combination made no difference as India were found themselves reeling with 2 wickets down with only 10 runs on board. It looked like all on King Kohli's shoulder again and he needed to carry the batting line up. A bizarre run out of Pujara just before the rain break piled on to the misery of Indians.
 
Pujara Run Out - the turning point

 
After almost 3 hours rain break, the game resumed around 5pm local time and big partnership was needed between skipper Kohli and Vice Captain Rahane. Kohli's constant struggle against Woakes finally came  to an end when he edged one to the slips for 23. He never looked comfortable against Woakes who drew him forward in the previous over with lots of plays and misses. Once the Indian captain gone, it went all downhill from there. Only Ashwin showed some resistance with a well made 29 and few late blows from Shami  ensured India went passed 100 mark. India finally got all out for 107 with lots of questions to answer.
 
Anderson 5 wicket haul

 
With only 107 runs in 1st innings, it is very tough for India to come back into this match. However with rain forecast for whole day tomorrow and monday, there is a chance this game might be washed out and India might sneak with a draw.
 

express bowling
Indian fast bowler, Md. Shami, was on fire during the closing stages of the Johannesburg test match in January 2018. As quick yorkers and stump directed deliveries came spearing in one after another, the South Africans were losing wickets fast and crashing to a test defeat on their home turf. And we won rather quickly after this.

This test match win was rather unique ... India won it without playing a single spinner while playing 4 specialist fast bowlers and a seamer-allrounder ... for the first time in our history.  And what an elated feeling it was for the fast bowling fans of India !

Forty years back, the only way to differentiate between an Indian pacer and an Indian spinner was to look at the length of their run-ups. After that, we produced one good test quality pacer per decade ... Kapil in the 1980s starting 1978,  Srinath in the 1990s and Zaheer in the 2000s.

The 2010s decade saw a sea change. With much improved strength and endurance training, nutrition, world class facilities and fitness coaches at the NCA, rampant use of speed-guns in coaching facilities, good cricket infrastructure in many parts of India, bubbling confidence of Indians due to a fast growing economy,  rookie pacers interacting with world class coaches and players in the IPL, good U19 and A-team structure etc. ...  fast bowling culture finally arrived in India. And in 2018, we have so many good quality genuine fast bowlers right from the U16 stage to the senior team.

Now, the 5 test series in England is about to be played.  Let us take a look at the resources available to us.
 

Pacers selected in the squad to England for the first 3 tests -- 
 
 
Jasprit Bumrah
Age 24
Test Average  25.2  and  SR  48.1
Speed range in test matches -  135 k to 148 k
Bowling style - Right arm fast

Bumrah is a hit-the-deck genuine fast bowler who is around  6 feet tall. He has a high arm and unorthodox action. Gets good bounce , zip off the deck and seam movement wherever possible and is a very accurate bowler.  He started off as a pacer who bowled indippers most of the time ... but in the last 9 months he has also  developed the delivery that moves away slightly.  This has made him a very dangerous bowler.

He is a thinking bowler who adapts to situations fast and is a quick learner. This,  along with his ability to combine pace and bounce with skills,  has made him a genuine wicket taker. He bowled with great intensity and pace in his debut test series in South Africa and ended up with 14 wickets from 3 tests ... and his transition from white ball to red ball cricket was rather smooth.

His unfortunate thumb injury will make him miss the first test.  I hope he gets fit for the second game.  He has all the qualities to be the leader of our pace attack.


Md. Shami  
Age 28
Test average  28.9  and SR  51.2
Speed range in test matches - 135 k to 147 k
Bowling style - Right arm fast

He is a short, well built, genuine fast bowler who combines pace and bounce with good skills and has an excellent ball release and seam position. He is a master of reverse swing both ways and gets consistent seam movement too wherever available. Although not a classical swing bowler, he can bowl conventionally swinging balls when conditions are helpful ... and takes the ball away from the right-handeres.  He also has a vicious and skiddy bouncer which he uses liberally.

Shami in full flow is a sight to behold and this has made him a low average and low SR bowler.  But his career has been marred by knee injuries which has made him miss many a series. Adding to his injury woes has been some acute marital problems in the last 8 months, which has shaken him mentally.

I hope he is in the mental frame of mind to give his one hundred percent in the upcoming test series. If he is firing on all cylinders, our job will become much easier in England.


Umesh Yadav  
Age 30
Test average  34.9  and SR  58.0
Speed range in test matches - 135 k to 150 k   (  but has bowled 130 k to 145 k in the last few months  )
Bowling style - Right arm fast

He is a skiddy fast bowler, around 5'11" , who can combine pace with outswing. But his weaknesses are lack of consistency, accuracy and insufficient bounce for such a quick bowler. He has a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome.  We dont know which Umesh we are going to get, the magical wicket-taker or the club level bowler.

Another problem he has developed in the last few months is bowling slower than he can. This is not a good idea for anybody, but especially for someone whose USP is pace. He has done it perhaps in search of accuracy. That hasn't happened though as most pacers are most accurate when they are bowling in full rhythm and normal pace. Bowling slower or faster than usual, both affect accuracy adversely.

If he can combine outswing, pace and good lines ... he can be a handful in England.


Ishant Sharma   
Age 29
Test average  35.5  and SR  65.9
Speed range in test matches - 132 k to 145 k
Bowling style - Right arm fast-medium

He is a  6'5"  hit the deck pacer who has been around for more than 10 years.  A slow learner and sub-par performer, he is lucky to have survived this long.

But, in the last 4 years he has added value, in overseas test matches, as a workhorse pacer who can get in a lot of overs at a low economy rate while hitting the deck hard and maintaining lively pace.

He has recently had a county stint and seems to have developed a better inswinger. His perennial problem has been bowling a bit shorter than ideal length and we will see whether this aspect has improved.
 

Shardul Thakur 
Age 26
Test average  -  Yet to debut
Speed range in FC matches - 130 k to 142 k
Bowling style - Right arm fast-medium

A short skiddy pacer, around 5'9" ... he seems to be the automatic backup seamer in all formats the moment someone is injured or rested.  But is definitely not the best choice available, with so much good quality fast bowling talent available in India now.

He is primarily an outswing bowler. If he can bowl a good line and length then he can be successful in England due to his ability to get outswing. He has a decent bouncer too.

We have to see whether he can sustain pace in test matches. He is such a short seamer bowling at standard pace, whether he can make an impact, if the dry English summer does not offer much swing, needs to be seen too.


Pacers who barely missed out due to injury or otherwise -- 


Bhuvneshwar Kumar ( injured )
Age 28
Test average 26.1 and SR 53.1
Speed range in test matches - 127 k to 142 k
Bowling style - Right arm fast-medium

India's best swing bowler who is capable of picking regular five-fors in helpful conditions or on greentops. His unavailability in swing-friendly England, atleast for the first 3 tests, is a big blow for us.

He has a good seam position and can swing the ball both ways if conditions favour conventional swing, get some seam movement on greentops and is an accurate and thinking bowler. He often looks innocuous on flat or slow tracks though.

After adding some pace and bounce, Bhuvi has become very competitive in test matches.  He will be missed.


Md. Siraj  
Age 24
Test average - Yet to debut
Speed range - Was Bowling 135 k to 150 k in T20s ...  Can he bowl 135 k to 145 k in tests  ?
Bowling style - Right arm fast-medium / fast

A wiry, skiddy fast bowler, around 6'1",  Siraj has progressed very fast after FC debut, with stellar FC, List A and A-team performances.  He can bowl with genuine pace but does not always do so. His speed has improved a lot in the last 4 months.

He started off as a bowler who bowled indippers mostly, but saw him bowling the away going delivery rather regularly on the just finished A-team tour to England.  Previosly, most of his wickets were via skiddy quick stump directed deliveries, which fetches him lots of bowled and LBWs.  He has been getting quite a few caught behinds in recent times.

He has been in red hot form in the just concluded  4 day A-team series. Has picked up 15 wickets in 2 matches.  Should have been picked in the test squad.


Ankit Rajpoot  
Age 24
Test average - Yet to debut
Speed range in FC matches - 130 k to 143 k
Bowling style - Right arm fast-medium


He is a very tall outswing bowler, around 6'3" maybe, who bowls at a lively pace.  Can hit the deck hard when needed, for bounce and seam movement. Bowls a beautiful line and length too. Could have been an ideal pick for England but got injured just before the test squad was announced.

He has been playing FC for a long time and has done well in both FC and on A-tours. His issues can be ... he is sometimes unable to maintain pace and intensity in 4-day matches.


Navdeep Saini  
Age 25
Test average - Yet to debut
Speed range in FC - 133 k to 145 k
Bowling style - Right arm fast

A skiddy fast bowler, around 6'0", he bowls a wonderful line targeting the top of off stump. He can seam the ball both ways.

He bowled at high pace and with good intensity in the knock-out matches of last year's Ranji Trophy and picked up lots of wickets including fifers.

He has been playing for India-A for 2 seasons now and was picked in our Test squad in the one off test versus Afghanistan.


Conclusion --  If we had our 3 low-average and low-strike-rate pacers available for this test series ... Bumrah, Shami and Bhuvneshwar ... then our pace attack would have posed a tough challenge for England. Unfortunately, Bhuvi is injured and Bumrah will miss the first test atleast.

This situation makes our pace attack hit or miss for the first test ... and it is time our 3 senior pacers, Shami, Ishant and Umesh, put their hands up and show some consistency and intensity. Things should improve if Bumrah is fit from the second test match onwards.
 


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