It could all come down to the toss as India will play Bangladesh on the same pitch where they lost to England but here are India’s problems. KL Rahul as an opener. Vijay Shankar or Rishabh Pant at No.4. Kedar Jadav sometimes at No.5, a spot above his skill set. When the team was picked, there was no Plan B. What if a middle-order batsman failed? MS Dhoni is still a good lower-order batsman, who can sense game-changing moments, but at this stage in his career, he needs cover, from Hardik Pandya. That was provided by the team management but other aspects weren’t foreseen.
Sometimes, injuries are a curse – like Shikhar Dhawan’s which twisted Plan A out of shape and India had no alternative to fall back upon. And they stumbled on to weaker options.
Sometimes, injuries are a blessing. Like Vijay Shankar’s. It forces India into Plan B and now the team can whistle if they move the cards well. No time to second-guess now. Rahul should drop to No. 4, and Mayank Agarwal should open if he reaches the venue in time. Never mind the jet lag, he has done it before in Tests in Australia; he can do it again.
Sometimes, an out-of-sorts knock can be helpful to the team. Like Pant’s. There was too much pressure on him and it told in the way he ran at the start, and it was visible that Rohit Sharma actually calmed him down. Hand on shoulder, pat on the head – it was stirring to see Sharma, a cricketer loved by fellow players for exactly this emotional quality, for his empathy. Somebody who Praveen Kumar would get all emotional about. “Bhai hai mera, zindagi bhar ehsaan nahi bhoolunga” (He is my brother, will never forget his help all my life). And Pant did improve as he went on but it wasn’t exactly his kind of pitch.
But that knock now allows India to go either of two ways: Drop him or take a chance with him as an opener. The way teams have gone about in this tournament – keeping wickets in hand, taking us back to the 80’s and 90’s, India would probably do well to let him go for now. Bring in Agarwal at the top, push Rahul down.
Sometimes, technical flaws can help a team. Like Rahul’s. There is a reason why he struggled as a Test opener. He plays from the crease. Neither forward nor back. No meaningful stride really. With that technique, one needs impeccable balance which he spoils by taking little meaningless strides that upset his applecart. Neither here nor there – in a limbo. And then Rahul does something very curious. His hands, holding the bat, are almost behind his right leg, the back leg in his stance. Most batsmen hold the bat between their legs, some even lean forward. Not him. So, by the time his hands move forward to meet the ball, he is already a touch late – it’s also the reason perhaps he punches on-the-up so often to even full-length deliveries. By the time his hands get into position, the ball is on the rise. But more importantly, it’s that playing-from-the-crease that affected him right through last year’s Test series in England. Not much has changed now.
At no.4, he can be perfect for the team. Someone who can bat straight, almost copybook, someone who has all the shots to get the runs flowing, someone who can tackle what essentially is still a newish ball, someone with a game to rotate strike, or strike out if needed. He can be India’s best No.4. It would be interesting to see how the team management goes about it. Would they be tempted to persist with him as an opener? Even if he succeeds against the Bangladesh new-ball bowlers, it would be prudent to look at the future in the tournament, and make changes now. Rahul at No. 4 offers a greater balance to the team than what even a successful Rahul as an opener can provide.
Who would follow him? India might well go to Ravindra Jadeja. At the start of the tournament, Jadhav did seem better placed for that spot but considering the way he has batted – almost Jadeja-like, run-a-ball – and considering India haven’t (puzzlingly) used him much as a bowler even on slow(ish) tracks, Jadeja can well do the spin-all-rounder’s job better. He provides cover in case the two wrist spinners are taken apart as England did. This would be an interesting move. It would lead to concern about the batting being thinned down, and it also requires the presence of a solid batsman at No.4.
Jadhav, not Raina
If Rahul is down there, Jadeja can follow him. Jadhav isn’t Suresh Raina of the 2011 World Cup – someone who came and helped Yuvraj Singh win that crucial match against Australia. Jadeja can be tried out and if he proves out of place, they can revert. As it is, on good days, it would be Pandya or even Dhoni who would bat ahead of him.
This is where Dhoni can step up. With someone like Rahul at No. 4, he can (hopefully) come later in the piece with clarity about his role. Push around for singles and run hard for twos, rotate strike with Pandya or Rahul, and then once they are dismissed, go for his shots. Even a strike rate of around 100 would do. He doesn’t have to pull off 150 strike rates – if that happens well and good, and the new role can free him up to extract the best out of Dhoni at this stage in his career. For that he, and the team, need a good No. 4.
Sometimes, injuries can help. Have you seen the meme from a Tamil movie involving Rajinikanth and his co-star Prabhu deliberately breaking the hand of another character artist Pandyan? Watch it if you can. Rajini is labelled as Dhoni, Prabhu as Kohli, and Pandiyan is of course Vijay Shankar. And it’s done to affect a jail-break in that scene. It’s hilarious meme and even Shankar, who loves to watch movies, might smile through his troubles. His injury might yet allow India a jail-break of their own.
Except for Rohit Sharma and Virat Kolhi, no batsman in India’s batting order seems to be playing at a spot that suits his style of play.
1 KL Rahul:
Burst forth as a solid opener, but with more exposure, his vulnerability have been exposed. The tendency to play from the crease hasn’t helped, amplifying his weakness outside the off-stump. As has been his uncertainty in playing the moving ball. He, though, looks more comfortable batting down the order, especially at No 4, where he can offer a better balance.
2 Rohit Sharma:
Has been in exceptional touch, racking up three hundreds and taking the art of pacing an innings to a different level. Undoubtedly the pillar of the batting line-up in his current form.
3 Virat Kohli:
Beyond doubt among the greatest batsmen of his generation. He has yet to score a hundred this World Cup, but has looked fluent, as five successive half-centuries would testify.
4 Rishabh Pant:
Brings a lot of energy and ammo, but not quite adept at No 4, both technically and temperamentally. Besides, he has the tendency to play one short too many at the start and not the composure to orchestrate a chase on his own. His tendency to play cross-batted shots also makes him suitable for a spot that’s down the order. Maybe 5 or 6, where can accelerate, either for the final flourish or closing out games.
5 Hardik Pandya:
Ideal for cameos, but not for a longer haul. Best used as a floater to lift the run-rate. He can be the ideal foil to MS Dhoni in the backend of an innings.
6 MS Dhoni:
No longer the clinical hitter of the yore, but still blessed with game sense and composure to guide a chase. He can keep pushing around and run hard for twos and singles and at the end can go for his shots. Still thrusting him with finishing duties is harsh.
7 Kedar Jadhav:
His best spot is yet to be decided. Neither a clean hitter of the ball nor a busy accumulator, he has often looked like a fish out water. At best a No 5, but not quite a Suresh Raina in terms of his ability to explode and change games.