All is not lost
With the World Cup a stone's throw away, India's defeat in the recent series against Australia has augured well for sorting its haphazard middle order
Since the last 18 months, Virat Kohli's men have reigned in unfamiliar conditions and established themselves as one of the favourites leading to the 2019 World Cup. With the mega cricket extravaganza around the corner, India has been shuffling a group of players to extract the best combination for its World Cup squad.
Australia's tour of India started on an unexpected note with the visitors whitewashing the hosts in T20Is. Seeking redemption, India started the ODI series on a high – thrashing the Aussies by six wickets. Australia though came back strong in the next game; but, despite Stoinis's heroics, they fell short by eight runs. Since then, Australia went on to trample India, handing the hosts a 3-2 defeat. With this, India became the first team to lose a series twice, despite winning the first two games.
There were a few questions for which India desperately needed answers. Rishabh Pant was given an extended run to confirm India's second choice wicketkeeper, with Dhoni being rested now and then. But Pant failed to impress both with the bat and behind the stumps. This makes Dinesh Karthik the favourable option, given his experience and newly developed ability to finish crunch games.
The number four conundrum remains the utmost concern for Team India. It is likely that India might carry both KL Rahul and Rayudu for an extra batting option. Rahul can bat at 3 and Kohli can push himself down to four with Rohit and Dhawan at the top.
A settled middle order has been another headache. India has tried various players at different positions, but the absence of Hardik Pandya has hurt the team in its recent loss. His ability to up the ante towards the latter stages and pick up wickets occasionally has remained unmatched. His fielding skills further make him an enviable asset for the team.
India did have Vijay Shankar and Ravindra Jadeja as all-rounders during Australia's visit. The former made his mark and has looked solid with his batting temperament whereas Jadeja has done no good to his all-rounder tag. In vital situations, he missed out on scoring runs lower down the order although he was decent with the ball. Pandya and Shankar remain more likely to board the England-bound flight. Another possible candidate for the flight is Kedhar Yadav. He has lived up to every opportunity and his unorthodox bowling makes him a desirable option.
After decades, Indian bowling looks settled. While Jasprit Bumrah prove his mettle as the best death-overs bowler, Bhuvaneshwar also appears at his very best when swinging the ball both ways. Mohammad Shami has made his mark as the third seaming option and if the situation demands, India now can go with an all-pace attack – with Umesh Yadav as the fourth option and Pandya and Shankar filling the remaining overs. The team will also like to carry its spinning twins, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal – to stall the opponent's run flow in the middle phases.
The series is lost, but India seems to have sorted many hovering questions. With the Indian Premier League starting later this month, it will be important for the management to keep a track of key players, who must be at their best fitness before travelling for the marque tournament – the World Cup!