Updated: January 26, 2022 9:03:08 am
When head coach Rahul Dravid fronted up to the media after the 0-3 ODI debacle in South Africa, he had to defend the team citing injuries, unavailability and inexperience of the squad. Looking ahead to the 2023 50-over World Cup, there are a lot of question marks on India’s preparation, as one reads the fine print.
Does India’s template for 50-over cricket need to change, given how more successful teams approach the format?
What Dravid said: We certainly could do better with the batting in the middle overs. We understand the template, but a large part of that template is also dependent on the balance of your squad. Some of the guys who really help us balance the squad out and give us the all-round options at 6,7, 8 are probably not here, not available for selection. So, hopefully when they get back, they probably give us the depth to play in a slightly different style.
Counterpoint: India has traditionally followed the approach of the top order getting in and one of them playing through the innings. If Rohit Sharma was available, that’s the way he would have played. That’s how Virat Kohli has made his name in ODI cricket. Shikhar Dhawan is considered the aggressor at the top of the order, but his strike rate is generally not comparable to Jason Roy or Jonny Bairstow, who are given the license to fail. In fact, Dhawan’s reluctance to play the all-out attacking role cost him the T20 job. It’s not easy to change the way a team has been playing, across generations, in a short time.
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The top four, if one slots in KL Rahul at No.4 once Sharma comes back, is a bit of an oddity in itself. They all take their time to get going and have the class to make up later, but the problem seeps in if they don’t go on for a big knock. Then the pressure falls on the middle and the lower middle-order where there is no real firepower to finish off in style. Rishabh Pant can but it appears the team is trying to slot him higher up in the order. Going by the reluctance to play Venkatesh Iyer in the opening slot, it seems that the top order is more or less sealed. It’s a pretty good line-up, especially in a 50-over game, but two things need to happen for it to be a grand success: the top order have to play long knocks to make up the run rate and the people below them have to really amp up the aggression.
As far as No. 6. 7 and 8 are concerned, the only major absentee in South Africa was Ravindra Jadeja. Hardik Pandya’s absence was a selection call. If the unavailability of one or two players can make such a big difference, it puts a question mark over the whole notion of bench strength. There is no evidence yet that Pandya has started to bowl yet, and would the management consider his hitting prowess and play him solely as a batsman?
What Dravid said: South Africa, who batted first on two occasions, only scored 290 and 280. At the 30th over in both those games, I felt we should have chased them down. We didn’t because we played some poor shots and we didn’t play smart cricket in critical situations.
Counterpoint: The batsmen who were in at that stage, Kohli around that mark in both games, as well as Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer, have played a lot of cricket and should know the demands of a situation. Pant and Iyer have not played a bucketload of ODIs but enough limited-overs cricket for India and their franchises to know the merit of taking a chase deep. If they don’t, it’s the team management’s job to make them aware.
What Dravid said: Deepak Chahar has shown in the limited opportunities in Sri Lanka and here that he has got ability with the bat. We know what he can do with the ball as well. Gives us nice options, he and Shardul as well, whom we have seen in the last few games, being able to contribute with the bat as well. More and more players who can contribute with the bat lower down certainly makes a big difference and gives us more options. We’ll look to give such players more opportunities so that they give more depth to the side.
Counterpoint: Given that the next 50-over World Cup is in India, the hosts will look to play two spinners. Assuming that Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami will be the frontline seamers, the identity of the fifth and sixth bowlers will have to be ascertained. If the conditions are expected to be spin-friendly, can the team afford another specialist seamer?
What Dravid said: Trying to give them as extended a run as we possibly can. We didn’t really change the middle order except Suryakumar Yadav got a game in the last one. We want to give them that consistency and security. Once you give that, you also have to demand performances.
Rohit wasn’t here so it opened up an opportunity to give some of the other guys a bit of a run.
Counterpoint: It was the big problem at the 2019 World Cup, and despite the notion of bench strength, there’s not a whole lot of names that command attention as far as the middle order is concerned. The team management would hope that the incumbents make the spots their own and there’s no repeat of the Ambati Rayudu-Vijay Shankar situation.
KL Rahul’s captaincy
What Dravid said: I think he did a good job. Not easy for him to be on the wrong side of the results. He’s got to learn. He’s just starting out on his journey as a captain. A large part of captaincy is also the execution of the skills by your players and the quality of the side you have got. We were a bit short on the one-day side of things. He did a very decent job, growing, will improve, get better.
Counterpoint: Being captain, Rahul has to take some of the blame for not influencing the games enough. His inexperience in the role was evident. Many of the players at his disposal are the same who have performed admirably in the past. As far as experience goes, it can be argued that South Africa also had many inexperienced players who had not quite made their mark yet.
Shreyas Iyer’s position
What Dravid said: It’s not about 4,5, 6. When you bat in those positions, it’s about what the team requires. In all the three games, Shreyas has gone in pretty early. It’s not as if he has to go in and slog. It’s not about individuals, we know guys have done well, we want to back them as much as we possibly can, we want to give them opportunities. Sometimes, they will have good tours and sometimes it won’t work out. There’s a lot of competition, people pushing for places. It’s not easy when you are in that kind of situation. We will try to give as much stability as we can.
Counterpoint: A player of Shreyas’ pedigree and experience should be finishing off games. The conditions were similar to what one faces in India. One can’t just rely on the big guns at the top to win matches going into a World Cup. With people pushing for places, one needs to give them enough opportunities to either make the spots their own, or fail.
Spinners not performing in conducive conditions
What Dravid said: Need to improve wicket-taking options through the middle overs. Spinners play a big role in that, but also with quicks coming back, and the kind of balls we bowl. We understand that’s an area of the game we have been behind a little bit. We need to get the personnel to do the things where we are slightly lacking.
Counterpoint: Indian bowlers – spinners and pacemen – are often found wanting when batsmen take the attack to them, as Quinton de Kock and Rassie van der Dussen did in this series. They go on the defensive and their execution falters. Ravichandran Ashwin couldn’t do the job in South Africa, while Jadeja often does a holding job in the middle overs. It leaves only Yuzvendra Chahal as a wicket-taking spinner, and Shardul Thakur, if given a chance.
Venkatesh Iyer’s role
What Dravid said: The idea is to develop players like Venkatesh, and Hardik when he comes back, as sixth bowling options. We have the option of Jadeja, who has been batting really well, and whom we can bat at No. 6 at times when he’s back from injury. It happens sometimes that when you are a sixth bowler in the team, you are not required to bowl.
We were looking at that kind of No. 6 who can be that sixth bowling option. That was the kind of role we had for him here because there are not too many spots open at 1,2 or 3.
Counterpoint: Venkatesh wasn’t given many opportunities with the ball, even when the batsmen were running away with the game. And the senior players are reluctant to give up their customary batting positions to try out a newcomer.
When is the ideal time for a team to have clarity on roles ahead of the World Cup?
What Dravid said: We already have a certain amount of clarity on where we are at, especially when guys coming back from injury come back. They will get their opportunity to stake their claim, and we will look at the balance of the side at that point of time. It’s a process, it’s a journey. We already have a fair idea about the kind of roles we expect from people and that has been communicated to them. It can also change from time to time depending on injuries, availability. So, there’s a broad outline and template already in place. As you get closer and closer, you keep fine-tuning that and narrowing that focus.
Counterpoint: Knowing what is needed and the kind of roles expected of players isn’t the same as getting the right man for the job. At this point in time, it seems a hope that the injured players will return fit and stay fit and the big guns will fire at the big tournament.
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