With an Eye on 2019 ICC World Cup, Time India Shook Things Up
India’s loss in the ODI series to England will expectedly cause a lot of heartburn in the country. We are a nation obsessed with losses and wins in bilateral ODI series, even though the rest of the cricketing world takes it in their stride. But if we are to do an objective analysis of the loss, then you would realise that it was a long time coming.
Twice in the space of 12 months, India have had two losses in ODI cricket: the Champions Trophy final and this loss to England. It has hit us at the right time and will probably serve us a timely reminder in the immediate future.
The problem is that the Indian think-tank has left a number of questions unanswered and that has resulted in a number of unresolved issues.
Muddled Middle Order
It has been five years now and we have settled in on probably the most consistent top three in the world of ODI cricket. While they may not be explosive, they are consistent and always deliver tall scores. Their consistency, however, has meant that we have ignored the obvious faults in the personnel that follow thereafter.
It is a pity because this rebuilding phase in the middle-order has outlasted the previous World Cup and could now very well reach the next one in 2019.
Ideally, the planning for 2019 should have started the day India was knocked out of the World Cup in 2015, but we wasted two crucial years. Virat Kohli should have taken over as India’s ODI captain right then and should have had a clear four-year mandate to build for the showpiece event, scheduled to be hosted by England next year.
Instead we have spent time procrastinating and delaying the inevitable. This has resulted in the following players being given a row depending on the captain in-charge: Ambati Rayudu, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Karthik, Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav and Suresh Raina.
This approach has left a muddle in the order and has hardly solved the issues we faced in the ODI set-up.
The MS Dhoni ‘Problem’
Add to this the confusion surrounding the role of MS Dhoni in the XI and you have problems galore. The former captain delayed stepping down from his role in white ball cricket. He should have quit the ODI captaincy after the 2015 World Cup and T20 cricket after the World T20 in 2016. Instead he lingered on, much like the seniors that he deftly replaced during his stint as captain in both ODI and Test cricket.
What this delay from Dhoni has done, is that it has left Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri with a lot of headaches.
We cannot be emotional about our champions anymore. We have an equally effective replacement in Karthik, who deserves a place by right in the XI. He was the man in form, yet we chose to ignore him first up.
Dhoni, on the other hand, hasn’t quite managed the strike rate of the past. He has been a shadow of his former self and that should worry everyone. This has increased the worries of the think-tank because the batting seems to end with Kohli.
Lack of Consistency in Selection & Planning
The equally experienced Raina too has struggled to get going and that has left a big hole in the middle-order. Together Raina and Dhoni should have been guiding the middle-order, but instead they appeared to be lost. They had the experience to supplement the top three, but clearly it is a plan that has not worked out.
This is also a result of the lack of consistency in selection and planning. We have discarded all the players listed above and that has let the situation to come to this pass.
With the number of ODIs going down in recent years, it was important to set your stall and stick to a few players so that they gain some match time.
The ODI series win in South Africa against a third-string home side lulled us into complacency. One of the key players there, Rahane, has been left to fend for himself in the shorter formats. He was, along with Karthik and Rahul, the ideal foil to Kohli in the middle overs.
Lack of All-Rounder Options
The other issue is the lack of alternative to Hardik Pandya as an all-rounder. It seems that Pandya is considered to be the only man for the job. This has resulted in the competitors being edged out quite unnecessarily. While Pandya has risen through the ranks very well, is it fair not to have other options?
India’s best ODI squads from 1983-1986 had many all-rounder options. There was no bar on choosing more than one all-rounder. What has happened, is because of lack of options, we have closed our minds and this has resulted in a long tail.
In terms of seam bowling all-rounders only a couple of names are worth mentioning. It is also a fallacy to think that the World Cup in 2019 will require just seam options. The pitches in England for ODIs are anything but seamer-friendly, so variety in bowling is going to be key. It is the spin bowling all-rounders who are coming through thick and fast.
One name that keeps getting mentioned is that of Krunal Pandya, Hardik’s elder brother. The other wild card choice could well be Ravichandran Ashwin. He is experienced, bats more than adequately and can even be used in the middle-order. He was cast aside after the fiasco in the Champions Trophy last year. But the doors cannot be closed on him, even if the think-tank does not have confidence in him in the shorter formats.
Ashwin’s replacements in the shorter formats – Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav – were meant to be India’s surprise elements with the white ball. But we have overplayed the wrist-spin angle. This has resulted in Yadav being, at times, over exposed, while Chahal has had his bad days, as you would expect a leg-spinner to have. They can be expected to hit back, but you need similar radical choices in the seam-bowling department too.
We cannot be pinning our hopes just on Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar staying fit at all times in the shorter formats. The senior lot of Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav have flattered to deceive with the white ball.
It may now be time to shake things up a bit.
India’s Under-19 World Cup fast bowlers Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi impressed a number of experts with their approach. Mavi even stood out in the Indian Premier League for Kolkata Knight Riders at crucial times. It may well be an opportunity to throw him at the deep end purely on the basis of a selectorial punt rather than long-term performances.
India has just a little over 15 ODIs left to plug all the gaps in their line-up before we head to the World Cup next year. Time to make the changes is running out, and the sooner they pick the hints from the loss in England, the better. Remember it was a similar bilateral series loss in 2007 in England which resulted in a complete recast of our ODI line-up under Dhoni. Time has come for something similar 11 years on.