On the face of it, India’s three-match One-Day International series against New Zealand beginning Friday at Auckland will go down as another pointless contest with no context to it.
Speaking on the eve of the match, New Zealand captain Kane Williamson didn’t mince his words and reiterated how ODIs need context. On Monday, Australia and England faced-off at the MCG in front of a sparse crowd, and a similar scene at the Eden Mark when India and New Zealand take the field is a possibility. The Men in Blue have chosen to rest their stars and even Hardik Pandya, who led the team in the T20Is is back home, handing over the team to Shikhar Dhawan.
And for all the talk of this series lacking context, for India there is more to it. The 50-over World Cup is less than a year away and they need to hit the ground running. They have resources in place, but are still some distance away from identifying which ones to use.
Teams usually rely on four-year cycles to build a team for the World Cup. It has been the norm for ages, but India have lagged behind. They have gone into two successive 50-over World Cups without knowing who their No.4 batsman is. They have experimented way too much and have settled for less. And for a World Cup at home, they are now racing against time to put together a winning unit like in 2011.
Back then the process began at home against Pakistan in 2007. After a series loss at home to Australia, out went Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid as MS Dhoni began a long process that culminated on April 2, 2011.
From a settled team, to a strong support-staff, they also had a selection panel that had the vision to look ahead. In fact, the committee led by Kris Srikkanth even got an unprecedented extension keeping the World Cup in mind.
And less than a year to the World Cup, India doesn’t even have a selection panel – the new selectors have not been appointed after it was announced that the current panel won’t get an extension.
They are set to have their third chairman of selectors in three years — which is again unprecedented – meaning there is no continuity whatsoever. Which is why, some of the selection calls raise eyebrows, especially the decision to not include Sanju Samson in the T20Is against New Zealand.
However, as the focus now firmly shifts to the ODIs, expect the likes of Samson, Shreyas Iyer, Shubman Gill and Suryakumar Yadav to play a bigger role going forward. While Samson’s omission invited plenty of criticism, going by how India handled him in the recent A series against New Zealand in Chennai, it is evident he will have a bigger role to play in 50-overs in at No.5.
But before that, there are a few calls the new selection panel and the Indian team management have to decide. And it is the same question they failed to address before the T20 World Cup.
Top-3 question- Who will make their top three?
With this being a 50-over format, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli’s positions are locked. But the prominent question is who gets to open alongside the Indian captain. Dhawan enjoys a good rapport with Rohit and not many teams have such a prolific left-right duo at the top.
And despite all the talk of Dhawan’s performance on the wane, he has the big match temperament and delivers consistently at ICC events. The other option for that slot is KL Rahul.
It would be foolish to omit him from ODI plans on the back of his T20 performances as all said and done, he remains a batter who has grown up in an era where 50-overs remained relevant. And one who knows to give respect to the new ball bowlers before shifting gears.
In case, Dhawan is phased out, in Gill India have a third opener to groom as the continued omission of Prithvi Shaw even from A tours suggests he is still down in the pecking order.
And in Indian conditions, more than the top-order, it is the middle-order that will decide the outcome especially if one factors in the amount of overs spinners will send down. It is imperative for India to have two of Shreyas, Sanju, Suryakumar in the middle-order going forward. All three are exceptional batters against spin, and the sort of ones who can be the enforcers in the middle-overs who will ultimately decide how big a total India can set.
In simple terms, India need not go back to their formula of preserving wickets and going full throttle in the last 10 overs. Of course, it has worked for them, but even in ODIs, it is a strategy from a bygone era.
And among the three, given India’s handicap with batters inability to bowl, only two could ideally fit in. The need to have six-bowling options could see India take a few tough decisions and this is where they messed it up at the last few ICC events – leaving it too late to find what a working combination is. Beginning Friday and up until the World Cup, India have 21 ODIs to put the puzzles together. The pieces are ready. It is time to bring in the right minds to pick the right pieces and make it work.
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