Will India’s World Cup Quest For Balance End With Success?

April 18, 2019

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After months of speculation, India’s Cricket World Cup fifteen have been confirmed.

It has been an intriguing wait to see the combination the two-time champions would go with. While 11 players had their positions more or less sealed up, there were four spots left for grabs, including the elusive No. 4. There were also doubts regarding the back-up options, and whether or not the IPL would spring a left-field option despite the denials of Virat Kohli and MSK Prasad. In the end, there were two debatable decisions.

To see Dinesh Karthik inching in ahead of Rishabh Pant is a reasonable conclusion in view of India’s style in recent years, but the youngster’s exclusion is still a bone of contention. Pant is well-known for his X Factor: his explosive nature and the ability to accelerate like few others. As a big talent, it would have made sense to take him in case he could be the surprise game-changer that the likes of England and West Indies have. Hence, many might scoff at India’s decision to exclude him, feeling that they may have missed a trick here. However, it is not all black and white.

Pant has so far played just four ODI innings, with a highest score of 36. It’s a small sample size, and certainly doesn’t account for the situations he has come out to bat in, but his lack of experience is a factor. His rapid innings have come in the shorter format, while he has two Test hundreds and two 92s in nine Tests. His game in the 50-over format has not fully levelled out yet, and he hasn’t had the chance to find the middle ground between Test and T20 batting, formats where he has done well in so far. It was Karthik’s superior keeping, Prasad cited, as the reason for his inclusion – in the scenario Dhoni misses a game – but Pant is the Test keeper. His limited overs keeping is still a work in progress, as seen in his errors in the recent Australia series, but he is improving. The selectors might have used their keeping as a smokescreen for a real reason: their style isn’t tailor-made for Pant just yet.

Steady Rather Than Stunning

India’s approach under Kohli has been to eliminate most risks while batting given the bowling at their disposal. If they can rack up a 300+ score, they’d be odds-on to defend it on most days. If India find themselves at 180-1 in 30 overs, there are enough batsmen to pick up the pace, even if Pant could provide an extra push. If India find themselves at 100-3 in 20 overs, though, you’d expect Karthik to provide more solidity than Pant. That may well be the difference. They already retain one hard-hitter, Hardik Pandya, who can provide a major push while providing value with his bowling. To play two would be ramping up the risk factor a tad too much. It is a shame to leave Pant out, but his time will come.

Others might find this approach a bit old-school, but not all teams can be like England: spectacular on their day, but always in risk of combustion. Their modern ODI batting pose the largest threat to India in the World Cup they host, and so the Indians look to counter them with a different style. That may also be the reason for Ambati Rayudu’s exclusion in place of Vijay Shankar. It is unfortunate for Rayudu, whose career has been limited by misfortune. After 2018, he seemed a sure shot for the No. 4 slot, and appeared to have Kohli’s backing too. Unfortunately, more than his form, what took a hit was his strike-rate.

Barring his 90 in difficult conditions in New Zealand, Rayudu has had few substantial innings. With a strike-rate in the mid-80s, his batting lacks impetus and as a result the team loses momentum. Kohli’s ideal batting partner is one who rotates strike as much as he does, and Shankar is a much better fit for this. He has only five ODI innings to his name, and none at No. 4, making it a slight risk. He has no 50 either, but what he does have are promising knocks that show his ability to bat in different situations. He hit 45 off 64 against New Zealand, ironically forging a partnership with Rayudu after India were 18-4 before being run-out unfortunately. His 46 off 41 was an enterprising knock (and partnership with Kohli), cruelly cut-short by a run out once again. And he was able to biff a quick 26 off 15 batting at No. 7. Shankar is not a conventional top-order batsman, but he can fulfil the role this side needs him to do. In a side likely to have eight batsmen, the No. 4 needs to keep the scoreboard ticking, rather than get bogged down. Shankar seems a better option for it.

Reliability and Versatility The Key

Of course, Rayudu is unlucky. His drop in form occurred just as Shankar came into the picture, and from there on they seemed to swap their level of importance. Three-dimensional jokes aside, Shankar is a better batsman for the role on paper, a bowler who can contribute as a third or fourth pacer, and a superior fielder to Rayudu. Kohli likes to keep his options open, and in Shankar he gets it. He’s not a star, but a utility player. Every winning side has to have them.

The rest of the squad sprung no surprises. KL Rahul will travel as the back-up opener and No. 4. Ravindra Jadeja provides the side with left-arm spin who will keep things tight, and his lower order batting has some value. His excellent fielding also has him down as a substitute fielder at any time. Mohamed Shami will contest with Bhuvneshwar Kumar for the second seamer spot based on conditions and the need for a balanced batting lineup. Karthik would be the back-up keeper, and least likely to get gametime out of the four back-ups. Pant, Rayudu and the seamer Navdeep Saini have been named as the three stand-bys in case of injuries.

As such, the ideal XI for the opening game would be Rohit, Dhawan, Kohli, Shankar, Jadhav, Dhoni, Pandya, Bhuvneshwar, Kuldeep, Chahal and Bumrah. The batting comprises of a world-class top-three, a decent middle-order on paper, the calm of Dhoni, the hard-hitting of Pandya and a handy option in Bhuvneshwar. The bowling, meanwhile, has two pacers (one world-class), two leg-spinners (amongst the best in the world), two seaming all-rounders and the option of Jadhav’s slinging off-spin. That appears to be the perfect balance. If Shami were to play, he’d come in place of Bhuvneshwar with one of the leg-spinners making way for Jadeja.

India have a fifteen to win the 2019 Cricket World Cup. Whether they have the right XI remains to be seen. Only time will tell.

India World Cup squad: Virat Kohli (capt), Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal, Shikhar Dhawan, MS Dhoni (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Hardik Pandya, KL Rahul, Mohammed Shami, Vijay Shankar, Rohit Sharma, Kuldeep Yadav.

Find all your 2019 Cricket World Cup betting odds here

Author: Rahul Warrier

Rahul is a freelance football writer, having delved into writing in 2015. Based in Singapore, he is a senior writer at These Football Times. His work has also been featured on FourFourTwo, Yahoo Sport, IBWM and MEN among others. He's a football fan, but a cricket enthusiast first.

Twitter @rahulw_

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