World Cup Over, Questions Virat Now Needs to Find Answers For
As the initial shock wears off, and India’s campaign is viewed with a clearer picture, questions rise.
As Team India crashed out of the World Cup in a heart-breaking semis clash, cricket fans world over sunk into dejection. The hot favourites for the title had ended the league stage as the top-ranked team, but all it took was “45 minutes of bad cricket” coupled with tough conditions and brilliant swing bowling from the Kiwi side to shatter a billion hopes.
Admittedly, the next few days after the loss were spent brooding, as supporters found it tough to accept the harsh reality. A queer void engulfed; a sense of nothingness as England and Australia were fighting it out for the piece of cake that should have ideally been India’s. The cricket lovers – the ones who had stood by the team through thick and thin, and witnessed the changes in the side over the last few years – were hurting. And hurting deep.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in her book, On Grief and Grieving, describes five stages of emotional phases that an individual goes through after situations pan out differently than expected.
No, India could not have lost. Was it a dream?
Why, oh why, didn’t MS Dhoni walk out at number 4? Why did Rishabh Pant play that nothing shot? Anyway, India never had the team to win the World Cup.
The IPL-style playoffs should be implemented. The team that finishes one in the league stage should have an advantage.
The semi-finals between England and Australia was skipped, or if viewed, remain a blur. Who really cares, if India is not playing either side.
And finally, acceptance.
As the initial shock wears off, and India’s campaign is viewed with a clearer picture, questions rise and doubts are what follow.
Why No Answer to the Middle Order Muddle?
Four players in sets of two are in focus here. Ambati Rayudu-Vijay Shankar and Kedar Jadhav-Dinesh Karthik. While the first pair throw up discussions over their selection (or non-selection) in the World squad, the second are in the news for their preference in the playing XI.
Since time immemorial, India’s number four was a headache in the camp. Players had been tried and players had been tested, but none consistently raised their hands up to perform under pressure.
Since the last World Cup, India had tried 13 players at the number 4 spot, with only five players averaging more than 40 – Rayudu, MS Dhoni, Ajinkya Rahane, Yuvraj Singh and Dinesh Karthik.
With Yuvraj retiring since, and Dhoni and Karthik not in the fray to bat at four, the spot should have ideally gone to either Rahane or Rayudu, if numbers were taken into consideration.
They were not.
Both Rahane and Rayudu are grinders, who could have played roles similar to what Ross Taylor or Steven Smith perform for their respective countries – stay put at the crease and do the ugly work of batting out deliveries.
Rayudu, in particular, was a big candidate for the position in the World Cup, having scored 13*, 47, 40*, 0 and 90 in five games in the tough conditions in New Zealand earlier this year.
However, three failures against Australia at home that coincided with Shankar’s rise (to be clear, his only noteworthy contributions were a 45 at Wellington, and 46 along with two wickets against Australia at Nagpur) meant that it was the Tamil Nadu player who was selected ahead of Rayudu for the number four position.
Despite not having played in England before, or having any prior experience of batting at number four.
As it turned out, Shankar played just three games in the edition before injury ruled him out. He was not a starter in India’s World Cup opener against South Africa and neither did he leave an impact when he batted at four, scoring 21 in 41 balls and 14 off 19 against Afghanistan and West Indies.
Chief selector MSK Prasad, when selecting Shankar, had shortlisted him for the number four slot.
Then why wasn’t he selected in the first game? What had Rayudu not done, but more importantly what had Shankar done to be given a go in conditions he had never played in before, at a spot he had never batted in before?
The same dilemma arises for Karthik and Kedar as well. The former, selected as a back-up to Dhoni, was included in the XI after the latter failed to show “intent” against England, scoring 12 in 13 deliveries. However, Kedar had scored a crucial 52 against Afghanistan, gritting it out in conditions that were tough for run-scoring, which indicated that he was no fluke with the bat.
Was Kedar dropped purely based on that one knock against England, and if that was the case, didn’t Dhoni fail to show intent as well?
You get where I’m going with this…
The Spin Conundrum & the Case for an Extra Batter in Bhuvi
Kuldeep Yadav or Ravindra Jadeja? Considering reputation in the last one year, it would have been a no-brainer to pick Kuldeep in the eleven, but recent form and his struggles in tough conditions wilted the scales in Jadeja’s favour.
The youngster had a terrible IPL, where he picked up only four wickets in nine games, giving away more than 8.5 runs an over, whereas Jadeja picked 15 scalps and also contributed with the bat when needed.
The Saurashtra all-rounder had also scored a fine fifty against New Zealand in the warm-ups before the World Cup started, after the top-order had been bounced away by Trent Boult (yes, seems all too familiar).
And, he could have been the answer to India’s batting woes lower down the order.
However, by persisting with Kuldeep, who did bowl well in patches, but massively erred in line and lengths in others, Team India not only weakened their batting, but also ensured that a match-winner in Jadeja was kept warming the benches.
With India’s middle order not faring well, Kohli unable to carry on to get a big score, Dhoni losing his skills and the inexperience of Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya further increasing the middle-order misery, the side was forced to go in with Bhuvneshwar Kumar over Mohammad Shami in the crucial semis, just to stack up their batting.
Till then, Jadeja, who had played just one game for his team, had not batted yet, and hence, his full potential, maybe, was not realised.
However, a spectacular 77 in 59 deliveries was enough to silence critics (read: Sanjay Manjrekar), as it left one wondering about the could-have-beens if he had played earlier in the event.
Yes, India did end the league stages as the number one side, but Jadeja’s presence in the team right from the start would have answered a whole lot of selection dilemmas before the semis.
Maybe, Mohammad Shami, who picked 14 wickets but had to make way for Bhuvneshwar Kumar as he stretched India’s tail, could have been included in the team. An in-form bowler over a bowler who could bat a bit...
(Sarah Waris is a postgraduate in English Literature has taken on the tough task of limiting the mystic world of cricket to a few hundred words. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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