India might have lost the game but the Hamilton ODI scoresheet showed that they have learnt from the mistakes they made at the World Cup last summer. The line-up with no specialist keeper, had part-timer KL Rahul behind the stumps this time, and more importantly, he was batting at No.5. Having burnt their fingers, resulting in the World Cup slipping out of their hands last year, the decision-makers didn’t think short-term again.
Considering Rahul’s phenomenal form in T20s as an opener, the team management would have been tempted to give him the same role in ODIs, more so with the experienced Rohit Sharma injured. But India went with the untested pair of Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal.
History of ODI cricket shows opening the innings isn’t quite the most difficult job. With fielders inside the circle and scoreboard pressure not having yet set in, the No.1 and 2 have it easy. Meanwhile, batsmen squeezed into the No.5 to 7 slots need to be highly skilled. They also are required to have the perfect temperament to soak in the pressure.
Every international country has deep reserves when it comes to openers, but the batsmen who deliver down the order are a rare commodity. India had struggled to get the right balance in their line-up, and often lacked the fulcrum who could control the innings when the Top 3 failed. It was something that was spectacularly exposed during the World Cup.
To understand how India missed a trick at the World Cup, consider India’s batting line-up in the last two games against New Zealand.
India vs NZ (World Cup semi-final, 2019)
India vs NZ (1st ODI, Hamilton, 2020)
Read these two batting line-ups – slowly and thoughtfully to discover how India’s near-miss in England last year wasn’t only because of the wrong man walking in at No.4. Seven months back in that heart-breaking game against New Zealand at Manchester, except for opener Sharma and No.3 Kohli, all other batsmen were either misfits in their batting positions in the Playing XI or in the squad of 15.
Back then India, stunned by the injury to in-form opener Shikhar Dhawan, drafted in three wicket-keepers – Pant, Dhoni, and Karthik – in the Top 7. However, the bigger mistake, rather the monumental error, was asking Rahul, who had made himself comfortable down the order, to be Dhawan’s replacement as opener.
With Rohit, Dhawan, and Virat at the top and Shreyas Iyer and Rahul to follow, India look more secure. Regardless of the result of the game, Rahul should stay at No.5.
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