A shock defeat against a largely-depleted West Indian side in the third ODI has infused life into the series. Virat Kohli’s 38th ODI ton went in vain as the men from the Caribbean kept striking at regular intervals to deny the hosts a much-anticipated victory.
An unlikely defeat at the hands of the West Indies has once again given air to a few burning questions. India’s lack of batting depth was quite visible when Bhuvaneshwar Kumar came in at seven with the likes of Kuldeep, Chahal, Khaleel Ahmed, and Bumrah to follow.
Despite having the ‘favourites’ tag firmly attached to their chests, the men in blue need to answer a few burning questions before the marquee event begins in the UK next year.
Overdependence on the Top 3
One of the biggest worries of the Indian team has been the batting order’s over-reliance on the top three. Every now and then, the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, and Virat Kohli can be seen churning out hundreds at a rate which is nothing short of incredible. Both the openers, along with the Indian Skipper Virat Kohli, have been scoring heavily in the limited-overs format. Shikhar Dhawan led the batting charts in the absence of Virat Kohli in the recently-concluded Asia Cup and scored a couple of centuries in the tournament. His form was one of the major reasons behind India’s successful Aia Cup Campaign.
Rohit Sharma, in the other hand, has turned into n ODI monster, scoring daddy hundreds on a consistent basis. In the ongoing ODI Series against the Windies, Rohit has scored 2 scores of over 150 (including the 4th ODI ). He now has 7 scores of 150+, 2 more than the legendary Sachin Tendulkar.
Virat Kohli’s greatness knows no boundaries. He has been scaling new heights with each passing game. He has scored three consecutive hundreds in the first three ODIs of the series, becoming the first Indian batsman to achieve this feat.
More often than not, one out of the top-three batters ends up getting a century. The problem begins when the top-order witnesses a collective failure. The top-order’s excessive run-scoring ability has often been punctuated by some ugly failures, like the one that was seen in the final of the 2017 edition of the Champions Trophy in England.
In the ongoing series against the West Indies, the third ODI brought to light the fragility ailing the team’s middle-order. After both the openers were dismissed cheaply, nobody in the middle order showed the temperament to play alongside the Indian skipper, who, despite losing partners at the other end, kept marching on his merry way.
Given the nature of some sinister defeats that the Indians have been subjected to in the recent past, it certainly wouldn’t be wrong to say that beefing up the middle by bringing in the likes of Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer is the best way forward for them. With age on their side, both these batters have shown signs of early promise, and a bit more work on the technical aspects might well see them sealing their spot in the batting order.
The riddle at number 4
The likes of Lokesh Rahul, Manish Pandey, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Karthik, and Ambati Rayudu have all tried their luck at number 4, but without much success. At a recent press conference before the commencement of the ODI series against the West Indies, the Indian skipper Virat Kohli backed Ambati Rayudu at number 4. Rayudu is only one of the three Indian batsmen to have scored a century at the number 4 position since the 2015 World Cup. The other two batters to have scored a century at number four are Yuvraj Singh and Manish Pandey.
With all the experience under his belt, Rayudu is India’s best bet at 4 keeping in mind the performance of other batsman. At an average of over 50, Rayudu brings a wealth of consistency and temperament into the side. Some would argue that bringing in the likes of youngsters such as Pant and Iyer at 4 would be a better idea, but given Rayudu’s returns with the willow in hand in the recent past, it certainly would be no hyperbole to say that he is India’s best bet at the aforementioned position.
The Batsmen cannot bowl
A big worry for the men in blue in the past one year has been their inability to find batsmen who can bowl. Kedar Jadhav came as a breath of fresh air to break the monotony. Baring Jadhav, no other batsman in the middle order can bowl. Hardik Pandya, with his medium pace, is a good enough bowler to bowl 5-6 overs at a stretch, but he still isn’t consistent enough to be handling the role of a full-fledged fifth bowler. In Pandya absence, Ravindra Jadeja, with all his experience, has stormed back into the team on the back of some impressive performances, both with the bat and the ball. Having someone like Ravindra Jadeja in the playing XI would not only add depth to the bowling reserves but would also infuse firepower into the fielding unit.
The bowlers cannot bat
Having batting depth has become pretty much necessity. Unfortunately for the Indian side, their bowlers haven’t been able to contribute much in the shorter formats of the game. Bhuvaneshwar, Kuldeep, Chahal, and Bumrah form the Indian tail. Apart from Bhuvaneshwar, who averages just over 14 in the ODIs, no other tailender is capable of contributing runs down the order. With the margin of victories getting shorter with each passing game, you have score as many runs as possible.
Nurturing a few tailenders who can swing the willow must be on India’s to-do- list. The gulf between the batters and the bowlers is so vast that once the top 5 get out, the Indians aren’t left with much firepower.
Dhoni’s failure with the willow in hand
One of the finest finishers in the modern game, MS Dhoni has seen his finishing abilities waning on quite a few occasions in the recent past. In his last 13 ODI innings, Dhoni has failed to reach a 50+ score. A paltry 275 runs at an average of 25 (in 2018) throw ample light on Dhoni’s diminishing numbers. Some say Dhoni’s contribution to Indian cricket is way more than the runs he scores, while others say that it is time that the Indians get used to life after Dhoni. With Rishabh Pant waiting in the wings, the opportunity is there for the taking. With Dhoni’s depleting returns with the bat hurting the Indian side, it is perhaps time for the Indians to look for greener pastures.