India finally announced its cricket squad for ICC World Cup 2019 on Monday. Over the last two years, the Indian selection committee has done a lot of chopping and changing as far as our middle order is concerned. We have seen the likes of Manish Pandey and Shreyas Iyer fall by the wayside. The selectors are confident and would like to think that with the present team, our middle order batting woes are solved. But there are still some grey areas as far as our batting goes.
One thing we have to bear in mind is that the pitches in England are not going to be anything like the subcontinental pitches or the IPL pitches at home. Our batsmen had a taste of the conditions when we toured England last summer.MS Dhoni is the greatest wicketkeeper- batsman the game has produced. But he is not the same player he was ten years ago.
Over the last eighteen months, his form as a batsman has been patchy. He has been guilty of taking too many balls to get set, drive up the required run rate and then losing his wicket. Of late, he has been more of an anchor batsman and not necessarily someone who leads from the front. Besides, there are no guarantees about his final flourish. It may or may not happen. The slow offspinners/floaters which Kedar Jadhav bowls are innocuous and can be tackled. As a batsman, he likes working the ball or pulling the ball from the crease on the backfoot. A tactic which might not work in England.
Hardik Pandya is a useful player. An impact player. Although he is a better bowler than a batsman. With Hardik again, there is no saying how many batting runs we can get. And he is yet to play a match-winning innings for India. Vijay Shankar is a good addition and after his recent performances, deserves a place in the team. He reminds one of Roger Binny or Balwinder Sandhu from the victorious 1983 Indian team.
One hopes he will find the seam conditions in England beneficial as a bowler. As a batsman though, one is not sure of his temperament or technique. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar is deemed an allrounder. He is an ace bowler but his performances with the bat in the last few years have been nothing to write about.
Which brings us to the top three. Our strength and solidarity. In the limited format, the performances of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli have been commendable. There is no better player than Sharma in the cricketing world when he is on song. But in the last two ODIs in NewZealand when the ball was doing a bit, he failed to make an impression. And he does have a vulnerability to the moving ball. Shikhar Dhawan is always going to go for his strokes and there is a chance he may get out early.
Virat Kohli is cut above the rest. He has this uncanny ability to keep the scoreboard moving and play some great cricketing shots without looking to get out. Besides, he runs so well between the wickets. But he is human after all. KL Rahul had a great IPL last year and this year too, he is pushing all the right buttons there. He is a great talent but his form overseas over the last eighteen months has been worrisome Though given the batting inadequacies we have, he would be a good choice to play at No 4.
So, here is the area of concern. Say we are chasing a total of 330/350 and we lose the top three wickets for under 50 runs. Can the middle order chase a big total successfully? There are serious doubts. That’s why, outlandish as it sounds, and like Sourav Ganguly said a few days ago, it would have been tempting to take someone like Cheteshwar Pujara in the team. Someone who can bat 25 to 30 overs, hold up one end and score about 75-100 runs. And at the other end, we have all these strokemakers who can play their shots. Believe me, this is still a 50 overs game and we don’t need to hit from the get-go.
The bowling attack looks good. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Jarprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami are solid. As also the spin duo of Chahal and Kuldeep. Jadeja gives us more options. Someone who can bat a little. Although the downside is if we are playing Shami, Chahal and Bumrah in a match, we will have a bigger tail and the batting looks thinner.
The selectors and management feel they have solved the middle order puzzle. But one needs more convincing. In a way, this is all we have and we must make do with it. The batting inadequacies remain but maybe it will all work out in the end, as it is more important how we play as a team. Remember the 1983 World Cup and the victorious Indian team. Besides, all the teams in this World Cup have issues. So let’s hope for the best.