In 2019, India’s Bench Strength Proved a Big Win For Virat Kohli
India’s bench strength stood out in 2019 as well with players stepping up in place of regulars whenever required.
India capped off yet another stellar year in terms of their performances in the 50-over format with a 2-1 series win over West Indies on Sunday, 22 December. Besides the victory helping them bag their 10th consecutive bilateral series win over the visitors, it also marked their 19th ODI win in 29 games of the calendar year, having lost just seven in the process (two were abandoned).
As has been the scenario over the last 12 months, Rohit Sharma and skipper Virat Kohli took the chase to the opposition, before Ravindra Jadeja finished things off after coming on lower down the order on Sunday.
While Kohli finished with the most international runs for a fourth year in a row and Sharma eclipsed Sanath Jayasuriya’s record to notch the most runs by an opener in a calendar year, India’s success in the ODI format over the last 12 months has been more than what these two have dished out on top.
Playing 29 ODI matches besides another 17 T20Is and eight Tests, the benchmark set by this Kohli-led brigade has always been the luxury that they enjoy at the depth, to pull through dire situations.
The audacity to step out with a different playing XI in every game may be a strategy that’s frowned upon by purists, but that’s a luxury Kohli can afford. A set pack of players who can be rotated according to the demands of the wicket and the opposition without having to compromise on quality, is not something that too many captains can boast of in the modern era.
The Quint takes a look at some of the options who are not regulars but were handy back-ups and happy headaches for the team management:
Regulars: Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul
Back-ups: Shikhar Dhawan
The most settled sector of the team, the opening slots, have been shuffled only between Sharma, Rahul and Dhawan this year. Although it initially began with a left-right combo between Dhawan and Sharma, following the former’s thumb injury during the World Cup in England, the management turned to Rahul to fill in the slot; and the duo responded well to the task.
While Rahul scored 509 runs in 10 matches at an average of 50.90 as an opener this year, Sharma slammed 1,490 runs in 28 games while slamming seven centuries. In 18 matches this year, Dhawan scored 583 runs at a healthy average of 36.43.
Regular: Virat Kohli
Back-up: Shubman Gill
Quite like the top two slots, this position has also seen the least amount of tinkering given skipper Kohli played in 26 of the 29 matches, with Shubman Gill featuring in two.
The only other game was washed out without a ball being bowled, although it was Kohli who was in the playing XI on that day as well. Kohli has been exceptional coming one down in the order and scored five centuries at an average of 59.86. He missed two matches during India’s tour of New Zealand, and with the side 3-0 up in the five-match series; the management could afford to give their talisman a break.
The skipper’s place was taken up by Gill, who by Kohli’s own admission is far more talented than Kohli was at a similar age. Although the teenager failed to make it big in the two matches, he has been a consistent performer in the domestic circuit with both Punjab and his IPL side Kolkata Knight Riders.
Thus, in case Kohli is out injured or is handed a break, Gill can be the go-to man for the management yet again.
Regulars: Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, Kedar Jadhav
Back-ups: Ambati Rayudu, Vijay Shankar, Dinesh Karthik, Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Never in the history of modern-day cricket has a position been discussed as much as that of a number four in terms of India’s World Cup debacle in England. From Rahul to Hardik Pandya to Vijay Shankar and even Rishabh Pant, the Indian team had to turn to as many as four names in 10 games to help them rescue their campaign. And, they still couldn’t zero in on one.
Post World Cup though, their blues seem to have disappeared given Shreyas Iyer emerged as an indispensable figure for the spot. In five innings, Iyer has scored four half-centuries while falling for an unlikely seven on Sunday.
An exceptional talent, it is a long road ahead for Iyer although Shankar and Karthik will face stiff opposition to make a case for themselves.
Given if and when Dhoni is roped back into the squad, he should be a like-for-like replacement for Pant, while Jadhav might have to make way for a host of other names. It was a similar case for Dinesh Karthik although the team have featured as many as three wicket-keepers, with two in the side – Karthik and Pant – as specialist batsmen.
But that strategy has backfired as well, like in the home series against Australia where five bowlers in the side meant there were no surprise elements for the visitors, who pulled off an unlikely 3-2 win. With Iyer in the side, who can also chip in with his leg-breaks, it’s unlikely that such a drastic move would be tried out anymore.
Regular: Ravindra Jadeja, Hardik Pandya
Back-ups: Vijay Shankar, Kedar Jadhav, Shivam Dube
The swashbuckling southpaw, Jadeja, has been Kohli’s general-in-charge lower down the order so far but things ought to change once the likes of Dhoni, Hardik Pandya and so on are slotted back in the side.
The bowling all-rounder featured in 15 matches this year, scoring 206 runs besides picking 12 wickets. However, it’s the odd 20-30 runs that often create a difference as was evident on Sunday when his 31-ball 39 was enough to help India sail through despite the dismissal of Kohli, 40 runs short of the target.
However, for the games Jadeja had to be on the bench, the management had plenty of options, like Shivam Dube and Kedar Jadhav filling in the slots. Although Hardik could feature in only 12 games this year, Jadhav played 23 games and scored 470 runs at an average of 42.72.
His part time bowling also earned him five wickets. A late entrant to that list was Mumbai’s Shivam Dube, who featured in just one game scoring nine while going wicket-less against West Indies.
Regulars: Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal
In the case of two specialist spinners being required on a surface, Chahal and Yadav have been up to the task with the two sharing 31 wickets in the 11 matches they played together in the calendar year.
Owing to their success together on the pitch, the wrist-spinning duo has never been clubbed in the same game with Jadeja, who performs the role of a bowling all-rounder in the side and not just of a specialist spinner.
Also, given Jadeja’s batting skills are far superior to that of both Chahal and Kuldeep, often the former has been picked as the first choice with Kuldeep or Chahal making up for the other spinner in the side.
Also, with players like Iyer and Jadhav providing the artillery of a part-time spinner, the need to have three spinners in the side never surfaced. It’s also a reason why there have been no back-ups for them as, at every given situation, either of the two were fit and raring to go.
Regulars: Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah
Back-ups: Khaleel Ahmed, Navdeep Saini, Deepak Chahar, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur
For the pacers, it’s unthinkable to have a fit Bumrah warming the bench. Most bowlers comprising the pace battery clock north of 140kmph these days and Bumrah’s toe-crushing yorkers along with Shami’s movement with the ball are a combination that work on most days.
Bhuvneshwar, too, performs a similar role as that of Shami but has been sidelined owing to a hamstring injury and a side strain. In 19 games, Bhuvneshwar had snapped up 33 wickets in his kitty in 19 games.
Bumrah, who had a back spasm and was on the sidelines for quite some time, picked 25 wickets in 14 matches at an average of 24.60.
Shami, meanwhile, finished the calendar year as the highest ODI wicket taker for a second successive time, with 42 wickets under his belt at an average of 22.64. His standout show was at the World Cup where he picked 14 wickets in just four matches but was surprisingly benched for the semi-final against New Zealand, where India lost by 18 runs.
The management also tried out options like Ahmed, Saini, Chahar, Siraj and Thakur but none has been able to come close the class that the trio exude.
The only problem with this Indian side is the absence of a world-class left arm fast bowler.
From Jaydev Unadkat to Khaleel Ahmed to Barinder Sran, there have been quite a few promising names that have popped up in the past but have failed to cement their positions in the side.
For the past two World Cups, India have been without a genuine left-armer and although the current Indian setup is a world-class one, there’s no denying that a left-armer would only add variation in that sector.
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