It is not a frequent occurrence that the Indian cricket team – or any team, for that matter – enjoy the luxury of walking into a World Cup game without a single worry, or nerves. But when Rohit Sharma’s team will take the field against Netherlands for their last league stage match of the 2023 ICC World Cup, in Bengaluru on Sunday (12 November) – he, his players, and the management, will all enjoy this luxury.
For, India have been flawless in the competition. With eight consecutive victories, they have not only confirmed their semi-finals participation, but have also been assured of the first place.
Should they beat Netherlands – which in all likelihood, should be a comfortable ask – the current batch will become the first Indian team to win nine consecutive matches in an ODI World Cup.
Yet, there will still be a decision to make. And, a big one at that. The question is – Should India rest key players for this match?
View: Why Resting Key Players Makes Sense?
Although Pakistan are still not out of the semi-final race, India are most likely to be involved in a 2019 semi-final replay, taking on New Zealand.
The match will be played in Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium on 15 November – that is – only a couple of days after India’s match against the Netherlands on 12 November.
On the contrary, New Zealand have already played their last league stage fixture on 9 November, and will be enjoying a six-day break before the semi-finals. Considering India will be taking the field twice in four days, with a 1000-kilometre trip in between, a few players might be rested.
2. Continuous Cricket:
The aspect of plausible exhaustion should also be taken into consideration, especially in the cases of players having recently returned from injury lay-offs.
After not featuring for over a year, pacer Jasprit Bumrah is at his consistent best, delivering the jobs in nearly every match for India. Over the last couple of months, he has played 14 ODI matches. Siraj, too, has played 14 ODIs over the last two months.
From the batters, Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul have been consistently involved since their return to the team, and might do with some time off.
The same can certainly be said about Virat Kohli, but with the opportunity of scoring a record 50th ODI century at his adapted home – the M Chinnaswamy Stadium – being up for grabs, he is unlikely to be interested in watching the game from the dressing room.
3. Testing Bench Strength:
A crucial aspect, considering the uncertainties shrouding every World Cup edition, will be testing the bench strength of the team. Ravichandran Ashwin and Prasidh Krishna – who was recently called up to replace the injured Hardik Pandya – have not featured in any of the matches.
The pair could get up to speed with game time against the Netherlands, which – should India require their services in the knockouts, for unfortunate injuries or otherwise – can later come in handy.
Note: In their last match against Afghanistan, the second-placed South African side opted for this route and rested two crucial players in all-rounder Marco Jansen, and left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi.
Counter-View: Why India Might Still Opt for an Unchanged XI?
By now, it has been established that India can comfortably afford to rest their major players for the Bengaluru battle. So, what could possibly stop them?
For this, we need to resort to a term used widely in physics and in cricket, for similar-yet-contrasting reasons – ‘momentum.’
The Indian team has emphasised the essentiality of consistency, and sticking to the plans. Experimenting with the team only three days before the semi-final could result in the interruption of continuity, and subsequently, affect the team’s momentum.
If we rewind to 2019, India were in a very similar stage. Having already qualified for the World Cup semi-final, they decided to drop Yuzvendra Chahal from the playing XI for the last league stage match against Sri Lanka. Kohli, then leading the team, stated the leg-spinner – who had featured in all of the seven matches prior to that, and picked up 11 wickets – was being ‘rested’ ahead of the semi-final.
When Chahal eventually made his comeback, in the semi-final against New Zealand, he ended up being India’s most expensive bowler in that game, conceding 63 runs in 10 overs.
The current think tank, headed by coach Rahul Dravid and captain Rohit Sharma, have harped on the importance of doing the same things over and over again, which might lead them into fielding an unchanged XI.