India vice-captain Rohit Sharma on Thursday said that even though there will not be drastic changes to the squad going into the World Cup, the players have to perform to remain in contention. India will play 13 ODIs before the start of the World Cup, the first of which will be played against Australia in Sydney on Saturday. Speaking to reporters ahead of the match, Sharma said: “The squad that plays these 13 ODIs is more or less the same squad that will go to the World Cup. There will be one or two changes, keeping in mind the form and injury concerns over the next few months.”
Despite the assertion, Sharma maintained that form and fitness will continue to dictate the selection of players. “We played a lot of cricket throughout the year, so injuries are bound to happen. And there will be some concerns about form and fitness. I don’t see there will be any drastic changes to the squad,” he said.
“I would not say every individual that is going to be part of the next few series would be playing the World Cup. You have got to perform. But there won’t be drastic changes,” the 30-year-old added.
Going into the three-match ODI series against Australia, Sharma said that the entire batting line-up has to contribute, including the middle order, which has often faced scrutiny. “It’s not about one or two individuals, it’s about 11 of us contributing, including the 7 or 8 batters that will be playing. Individuals may win one or two games but to win the championship, the batting unit needs to come together and at some stage put their hands up and say ‘I’m going to take that challenge and make the team get through the finishing line,” he said.
“There will be times when your top-order fails and the middle-order has to take the responsibility and they know that. I think they have done that in the last series we have played, in the Asia Cup, and also against the West Indies in India,” he added.
Sharma also praised Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik, who are expected to form India’s middle-order in the upcoming games. “We saw Ambati Rayudu coming pretty good in the last series we played in India. Dinesh Karthik has done reasonably well. MS Dhoni obviously is the key factor going forward. Then there’s Kedar Jadhav who brings so much to the table with his bowling, and with his ability to strike the ball at the end,” he said.
He further praised the contribution lower down the order from Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja over the past few series. “All these guys are very important, and not to forget Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja who will be playing a crucial role with the bat. That finishing touch is very, very important in this format,” he said.
Speaking about Australia’s bowling line-up, which will be missing the likes of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, Sharma insisted that the hosts still possess a strong attack. “These three guys don’t play too much of ODI cricket if I am not wrong. The last time we came here (2016) none of these guys played and we were still beaten 1-4, so they still have quality in their attack. It’s not going to be an easy walk over situation for us. We have to grind it out there, face the challenge and make sure that we put them under pressure,” he said.
On MS Dhoni
Despite former captain MS Dhoni’s form in the limited overs format coming under much scrutiny in the past few months, Sharma insisted that he will play a pivotal role in the upcoming World Cup. “Over the years we have seen what sort of presence he (Dhoni) has in the dressing room and on the field. With him being around, there is a sense of calmness in the group, which is very important, and also a bit of help to the captain because he stands behind the stumps,” the batsman said.
Sharma further added that his captaincy experience will help India in the tournament. “He has captained India for so many years and been successful. So him being around with the team always is helpful. He is like a guiding light around the group,” he said.
The cricketer further added that Dhoni plays a crucial role in the team. “He comes batting down the order, getting us through the line, his finishing touch is very important and he has finished so many games for us. His calmness and advice, what he thinks about the game and what we should do right now is very important,” he said.
“His presence around the group is a massive factor for us,” the opener added.
Sharma further said that spinners such as Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal reap a lot of benefits with MS Dhoni standing behind the stumps. “Chahal and Kuldeep are both doing really well so somebody like Dhoni standing behind the stumps and helping those guys about what the batsman is trying to do, it makes a huge difference I think. These guys started playing for India in 2017 and since then they have done really well in and outside India. And one of the reasons for that is MS and how he has guided these two guys in the middle about how to keep things tight and field placements. He has played a massive role ever since the time he has left captaincy,” he said.
On Test cricket ambitions
Sharma also talked about India’s recent historic win in the Test series Down Under and said that the team always looked at the bigger picture which scripted their win. “If you want to win a series, you can’t just look at the larger picture. You have got to focus on the smaller picture first and take one game at a time, one single moment at a time,” he said.
Speaking on his ambitions to become a regular in India’s Test cricket team, he said: “Test cricket will always remain an ultimate challenge, an ultimate goal for me. To miss out in Perth and Sydney was disappointing but the circumstances in which I missed the last Test was something different. I want to stake a claim and cement my place. When I get an opportunity, I need to give it my best shot.”