Virat Kohli has recently completed 50 ODI’s as skipper of India. The results are mighty impressive. They’ve won every 4 out of 5 ODI’s with Kohli as skipper. They have been dominant at home, had a great run in Champions Trophy, and treated RSA like a school team in RSA’s own backyard. Bowlers have finally figured out how to take wickets during the middle portions of the game, Captain possesses two skilled slog-over bowlers and a very confident all-rounder who brings a lot of balance to the side.
However, the side is far from perfect and this article highlights some of the areas that India needs to improve on before the World Cup. Normal wisdom suggests that you would want every player to have 30-50 ODI’s under their belt prior to World Cup but I disagree. Good players will shine regardless. New players bring a bit of a mystery factor and new levels of energy for high-octane tournaments. India’s IPL tournament prepares these players for big stages and selectors shouldn’t put too much emphasis on experience factor.
India’s top 3 are arguably collectively biggest batting threat in one-day cricket but as the final of the Champions Trophy demonstrated if these three go cheaply, India’s lower middle doesn’t look capable of mastering tricky chases. To be honest, the top 3 have enjoyed the best of batting conditions and hogged the majority of the strike preventing the lower middle order from getting valuable match experience.
Number 4 and 5 in one-day line-ups are still up for grabs. KL Rahul is still trying to figure out his role in ODI set-up. Raina is a fighter but he is technically limited.
The tail is a bigger worry. With the exception of Bhuvneshwar, India has three genuine number 11 batsmen. In this era of batting deep, India over-relies on the top 7 for the bulk of heavy lifting.
Elephant in the room
Any sane selection committee would have ensured Dhoni is collecting his pension by now but he is guaranteed a spot in final XI for the World Cup. Given his street smartness, surprisingly he has been a constant no-show in recent past and has frustrated fans on several occasion by ignoring the match situation in trying to bat himself in.
India’s reluctance of dealing firmly with fading stars puts inexperienced selection panel in a bit of a quandary. As IPL and other tournaments showed, there are potentially 2-3 very strong wicket-keeping candidates available should Team Management desire them.
The entire Indian cricket fraternity worships Dhoni and you can be assured the wise old wizard will retire on his own terms.
6th Bowling Options
When fully fit, India is fortunate to have 5 genuine wicket-taking options but there will be times when 1 or 2 of these bowlers will have an off day and a 6th option will come in handy. Suresh Raina is the only certified pie-chucker in the side but India can use someone who is a bit more reliable with the ball as a 6th bowling option. Krunal Pandya offers that option to India but it’s hard to see conservative Indian panel considering someone like Krunal Pandya to fill this important role.
Backup Bowling Options
The current backup options haven’t been that impressive. I can’t imagine the Kauls, the Sirajs, the Thakurs, and the Unadkats of winning games on their own. Agreed, they have been up against brutal batting orders on very flat pitches but none of them has demonstrated that X-factor that bowlers need in this era of flat pitches, mighty bats and smaller grounds. Umesh Yadav bowled some vicious spells in IPL but lacks that consistency. Shami has fitness and personal issues to deal with. Varun Aaron is not even on selector’s radar. Under present system, Mavi, Nagarkoti, Khalil and Rajpoot will probably have to put on impressive performances for 12-18 months to get a look in.
The purpose of this article is not to paint an overly negative or depressing picture of the current state. Like India, all other teams are also facing their own unique set of challenges. England lacks world class bowlers and will be under massive pressure to #BringItHome. Australia has serious re-building to do after Sandpapergate disaster. RSA is dealing with ABD’s retirement and the return of Amla to a more mortal form. NZ is like Belgium (Football Team) of cricket. A guaranteed semi-final pick but lack that firepower to go all the way. Pakistan and WI possess several match winners but do blow hot and cold. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have serious issues of their own.
Here is hoping team management and selectors are paying attention to few of these issues and ensuring India goes well-prepared into the mighty important tournament.