India’s series loss to Australia poses more questions than answers before World Cup
By PK Singh and Sidharth Gulati
The ODI series against Australia was India’s last chance to test some players ahead of the World Cup in England. However, they ended up not just losing the series (3-2) but also looking for answers when it comes to team selection for the showpiece event. Here’s a look -
Rayudu and the No. 4 conundrum
If there’s one spot that is still a cause of concern for the team management, it’s who will bat at No. 4. Ambati Rayudu was the latest player to enter the roulette which started in mid-2017 and the search hasn’t ended yet. From Virat Kohli admitting that he could push down to No. 4 during the World Cup to dropping Rayudu after the first three ODIs, things look unstable at the moment. Kohli has made it clear that the IPL will not impact World Cup selection, thus leaving Rayudu’s future hanging in the balance.
Rahul - Why only one chance for Karnataka batsman?
If the idea was to experiment during the Australia ODIs, someone like KL Rahul, seen as a back-up opener, didn’t even get chances to stake a claim for a World Cup berth. In fact, he batted at No. 3 in his only game of the series in Mohali.
Since his Test century against England at The Oval last year, Rahul has found the going tough in international cricket. While he did score some runs during India A’s home series against England Lions earlier this year, a couple of more matches against Australia would have boosted his confidence.
Wicketkeeper and No. 4 batsman - Rishabh Pant failed to leave a mark in the two games he played.
Pant was handed an opportunity in the fourth ODI after MS Dhoni was rested for the final two matches. He scored a quick-fire 36 but Pant, the keeper, struggled to collect the ball cleanly. He missed two stumpings of Ashton Turner, who went on to hit an unbeaten 84 in Australia’s four-wicket victory. On Wednesday (March 13), Pant looked threatening for a while before being dismissed by Nathan Lyon for 16.
In such a scenario, Dinesh Karthik could be back in contention for the World Cup. He’s safe behind the wickets, is an experienced campaigner and can even bat according to the situation.
Shankar could miss the cut
All eyes were on Vijay Shankar after his heroics in the second ODI but he faded away - partly because of his failure to impress with the bat and partly because of Kohli's lack of confidence in his bowling. After he managed to defend 11 runs in the final over in Nagpur, Kohli had said that Shankar was handed the ball only because there was a hint of reverse swing. In the following three games, Shankar bowled just 13 overs. In fact, he didn’t even get a chance to roll his arm over in the final ODI in Delhi.
Given that he isn’t a pure batsman and the team management prefers Hardik Pandya as the all-rounder, Shankar may find it difficult to make it to the final 15 for the World Cup.
Who is the finisher?
MS Dhoni is not the same old batsman and can’t be entrusted with the role of a finisher. Kedar Jadhav is a street-smart cricketer but doesn’t hit those big shots on a consistent basis. So, who is India’s finisher? Even Shankar doesn’t look like the batsman who can help his side cross the finishing line if the required rate is well over 10. The only option left is Hardik Pandya, who didn't play against Australia due to ‘lower back stiffness’ and is short on match practice after missing most of the action since last year's Asia Cup.
Spinners ineffective without Dhoni
Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have been excellent in the last couple of years, but nothing much went right for India’s spinners in the last three ODIs. While Chahal only played in Mohali - but leaked 80 runs - the Chinaman was swept well by the Australian batsmen throughout the series. In Delhi, where Adam Zampa, Ravindra Jadeja and Nathan Lyon were among the wickets, Kuldeep finished with figures of 1/74.
This is where India need Dhoni*, who reads the game better than the most. Chahal and Kuldeep have benefitted from his presence in the last one and a half years.
Within a week, India have gone from being favourites for the World Cup to a side that looks unbalanced. The management’s reading of the pitch and ground conditions has also been debatable.
If Kohli feels that there’s only ‘one undecided spot’, things don’t look great for India at the 10-team tournament in England, which starts May 30.
*Dhoni was rested for the remaining two ODIs after the third match in Ranchi