Firstly – The format, ODIs, perhaps currently has the lowest appeal of all three among the fans. Secondly – The opposition, West Indies, could not even make it to the World Cup, and had recently lost to Scotland and the Netherlands. Lastly – Owing to the vast difference between the two time zones, matches were likely to end past midnight.
These three factors’ amalgamation meant the three-match ODI series between India and West Indies could easily have been a drab, non-stimulating, and nondescript affair. In such a scenario, the Indian think tank emerged as the messiah for the broadcasters. Or, to be specific, the series of experiments carried out by the think tank.
The first ODI resulted in an Indian triumph, but not as emphatically as many would have predicted, with the team losing five wickets whilst chasing a meagre target of 115 runs. The jolt came in the second match, wherein the team not only suffered a defeat, but also sparked a barrage of questions with their seemingly incomprehensive strategies.
Experimentation – Commendable in Conceptualisation, Flawed in Execution
Subsequently, it was announced that the team is experimenting, and although the experiments did ultimately result in a 200-run third ODI triumph, the 'bigger picture' portrays a contrasting story.
This nascent phase of innovations coinciding with Oppenheimer’s release could be a temporal coincidence, but from another temporal perspective, India are only a month away from Asia Cup, and two months away from the World Cup; still not having figured out their strengths, weaknesses, and most importantly – the ideal playing XI.
Here’s a deeper look at the great Indian experimentation – a conceptually commendable strategy, but hampered by flawed execution.
The Omissions of Virat & Rohit
Of the many questions being raised following the series’ conclusion, the omission of India’s two most experienced players, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, is doing the most rounds.
Both featured in the first game, but Kohli did not bat. Rohit, too, tried his best not to bat, but had to, when half of the team was dismissed for 97 runs. Since then, they have been kept out of the side, with ‘necessary rest’ being provided as the reason.
Yet, a look at India’s schedule will convey that in the two months of international cricket since IPL, they have featured in only four matches – three Tests and one ODI, spanning a total of 13 days.
In those matches, Kohli has batted only four times – twice in the World Test Championship defeat against Australia, once in the first Test against West Indies, and once in the second Test. Sharma, along similar lines, batted on two more occasions.
A subplot of this particular strategy will be the questions on the communication between the selection committee and the team management. With it now being evident that Kohli and Sharma were not a part of India’s plans for the ODI series, the rationale behind their selection in the first place has not been furnished.
Ishan Kishan Shines, but in a Role He Has Always Shone In
Among the answers India have found from this series, a pertinent one is Ishan Kishan's reliability. With key batters missing from the team, and the Caribbean pitches offering purchase to the bowlers, the 25-year-old wicketkeeper-batter did exceptionally well to score 184 runs.
With scores of 52, 55 and 77 in the three matches, Kishan became only the sixth Indian batter to score half-centuries in every game of a three-match bilateral ODI series.
Yet, there are questions about his position. Kishan batted as an opener – a role in which he had already proven himself. Prior to this series, the Southpaw had played three ODIs as an opener, wherein he scored 238 runs at a strike rate of 142.5.
But with Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill having all but booked their slots for the World Cup, Kishan’s chances of playing an as opener are negligible, if not nil.
Instead, while both KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer are yet to make a complete recovery from their respective injuries, Kishan could have been tried in the middle-order – a position where he has struggled so far, and has an average of merely 26.5, with only one half-century in six innings, and that too, against Zimbabwe.
The Middle-Order Merry-Go-Round
In Sharma, Gill and Kohli, Dravid has all but assembled the apex of his batting armoury. Following them, we have an unceasing version of the merry-go-round. Whilst the Kishan-Gill opening pair was a constant feature in this series, pretty much everything else wasn’t.
Suryakumar Yadav was tried at number three in the 1st ODI, but after an underwhelming return of 19 runs, he was demoted to six, with Sanju Samson taking his place. Samson, unfortunately, recorded an even lower score of 9, and in the third match, Ruturaj Gaikwad was given that place. Extending traditions, he scored 8 runs.
Of the trio – Gaikwad is already out of the World Cup race, for he will lead a second-string team in the Asian Games instead. Yadav, unfortunately, did not look too convincing as a finisher too, and could be out of the reckoning.
Samson, on the contrary, did salvage a half-century in the third innings to keep his hopes alive. He might find himself in a shootout with Kishan, which leads to another conundrum.
Kishan has the upper hand on runs, but his runs as an opener. Samson played only a solitary commendable knock, but at number four – a position India would want options for. Whom do they pick?
Similar Scenes in Bowling Department
If the questions on the batting department are baffling enough, the bowling department will not be any saving grace.
Firstly, in the spin contingent, it s expected that Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal will feature in the World Cup. Yet, while the former did well, the latter was not provided with a game – leading to the question, will Ravichandran Ashwin arrive as a haste last-gasp solution, as he did in the 2022 T20 World Cup?
Ravindra Jadeja’s backup, Axar Patel was selected for the second ODI. In a perplexing experiment, however, he was sent to bat at number four, while being given only two overs to bowl.
Then, there are questions on the pace contingent. While Umran Malik was once touted as India’s possible X factor for the World Cup, could not make any impression in this series.
But upon closer inspection, one would find that he was only given six overs across two matches, before being dropped for the third. Incidentally, for Jaydev Unadkat – the 31-year-old who made his ODI comeback after nearly a decade, and is, in all probability, a few miles too many away from the World Cup plans.
India’s top three seem finalised, but the most in-form candidate for a middle-order role happens to be an excellent opener. Neither the overall composition, nor the individual positions of the middle-order is known. The second specialist spinner has only played two ODI matches this year.
One month to Asia Cup, two to World Cup. Tick, tock.