India Looking Strong With World Cup Looming

February 8, 2019

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An air of frenzy has begun to descend across the cricketing realm. Teams are scurrying to get their final squad in place and players are doing everything they can to seal in spot in the final 15.

Captains have started indulging in mind-games while the faster bowlers are looking after their fragile bodies like never before. Enthusiasts have settled down to carefully analyze their respective teams’ strengths and weaknesses and as the Cricket World Cup trophy is on an extensive journey across the globe, the most popular question stays, “who are the favourites for the crown?”

India.” The overwhelming response.

While England will have the home comfort, their faster bowlers look below-par. South Africa are still reeling after the shock retirement of AB de Villiers while Australia might go into the biennial event sans their greatest player Steven Smith. New Zealand‘s struggles against spin are well-documented and even India’s middle order has thrown up more questions than answers in the last twelve months. However, considering their clinical showings in SENA nations in the last twelve months, the Virat Kohli-led team will be brimming with confidence, which gives them an added advantage going into the tournament.

The Men in Blue have managed to win a whopping 71% of their games since January 1st 2018 – the most wins accumulated by a team in the given time period, while Engand follow closely behind having who have won 17 of their 24 ODI clashes. Both India and England have also played most of their games away from home – the former toured all four SENA nations besides playing in the Asia Cup in Dubai – while the Eoin Morgan-led team visited Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. The only home series that India played was against West Indies, while England hosted Australia.

However, despite their stellar run – they won all but the series against England – Team India are not without glaring flaws either, and the camp will look to address them in the ODI series against Australia next month – their last outing in the format before the tournament gets underway.

Will the middle-order rise to the occasion?

It is no secret that the side is top-heavy, with Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan scoring the bulk of their runs. The trio has amassed 4027 runs and are the top three run-scorers in the format, in that order. Their impact can be gauged from their average in wins, which stands at 77.90 and with twelve hundreds combined, India’s charge has often been led in the powerplay overs by the aggressive stars.

However, this sustained excellence, more often than not, has proved to be India’s Achilles Heel as well. The unprecedented attention towards the top three has left the middle order brittle, which is vastly exposed in case of a flurry of wickets upfront.

An unsettled number 4 has not contributed to their case either. Nine cricketers have been tried at the spot, with Rohit, Kohli and Dhawan being given a go as well. Ambati Rayudu has played the most number of games at the position – 6 – and he looks the best player to turn out at 4 in the event, but with a high score of only 40, problems are aplenty.

Coach Ravi Shahstri has hinted at Kohli being given a go at number 4 to help the lower order finish games more easily, but whether pushing the best batsman of the team away from his favourite spot is encouraged is yet another matter up for debate. MS Dhoni’s promotion from 5 too looks unlikely, and with his recent struggles with the strike-rate, the former skipper is often guilty of slowing down the momentum that the top three had tried so hard to build.

Numbers 5 to 7 have fared no better, averaging a poor 28.05 in the interim, and the fact that Afghanistan’s middle order has a better average than India’s confounds problems further. As many as 12 players have been tested in these three spots – with only Bangladesh trying out more batsmen than India. That numbers 5-7 have a high score of 61 and a strike-rate of 81.47 highlights the woeful run that has engulfed the finishers. Hence while the top three has averaged an impressive 61.74 with a strike-rate of 94.80, India’s batting order from 4-7 averages 33.96 with a strike-rate of 81.75, and this gap in consistency is what teams will look to exploit come the Cricket World Cup.

That the side also struggles in overcast and swinging conditions is well-known – the recent fourth ODI against New Zealand or the collapse in Dharamshala against the same team in 2017 will also give opponents a boost, and with rain expected to make its presence felt in England during the tourney, India will do well to be on their toes.

Where is the third seamer?

After the dismal run of Ravichandran Ashwin, Kohli turned to Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal to make an impact in the 50-over formats, and the results were almost instant. Kuldeep is the most impactful player in the last 13 months, picking up 55 wickets at a stunning average of 19, with his partner Chahal standing third in the highest wicket-takers list with 44 wickets. That the duo have played most of their games in conditions that are not conducive to spinners holds them in good stead, and will give the team a massive advantage in England. With most teams containing only a handful of solid players against spin, the chances of the spin twins trapping the rivals in their web is a realistic possibility.

However, as much as the spinners have excelled in non-friendly conditions, the seamers have faltered, with no pacer except for Jasprit Bumrah effectively raising his hands. Though Bhuvneshwar Kumar is India’s most successful bowler with 26 wickets, he has played 22 matches – 9 more than Bumrah, who has picked up 22 wickets in 13 games. The issue with Bhuvi is his inability to control his length if the first few overs have not been in his favour.

Mohammad Shami had been unable to perform per expectations until the series in New Zealand, while Khaleel Ahmed should count his lucky stars for being given the chance to play as many as 8 ODIs. Shardul Thakur and Umesh Yadav are big punts due to their tendency of going for runs on flat and small tracks – something that will be in abundance in England – and even Hardik Pandya, India’s seaming all-rounder, bowls with an economy rate on the expensive side.

With Pandya picking up only 9 wickets in 13 games, it can be said that he is a ‘bits-and-pieces’ cricketer, often not capable of finishing his 10 overs. The role of the second and third seamer then increases manifold, and with India struggling in this department, opponents will play it wise.

However, despite these setbacks, India has managed to convincingly overcome the odds. Equipped with world-class batters at the top and with spinning all-rounders like Kedar Jadhav and Ravindra Jadeja who can show off their magic even in averse situations, to go with the duo of KulCha, Team India has started an invincible juggernaut, which one hopes will end only with the ultimate triumph.

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Author: Sarah Waris

This postgraduate in English Literature from Kolkata in India has taken on the tough task of limiting the mystic world of cricket to a few hundred words. A firm believer that Kohli is beyond human, a wizard with the willow

Twitter @swaris16

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