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India’s hiccup before the World Cup

Australia deserves to win the five match ODI series against India. They played with a purpose with almost every player fighting to retain his place for the World cup squad. On the other hand, India rested key players, shuffled its batting order and had a look at newcomers and looked an unsettled side throughout the series. While India may have lost the series at home to the underdogs Australia, it is only a hiccup before the grand show – the World Cup. While at times the Indian fans may have wondered whether Virat Kohli’s men were as strong as they appeared, the conditions in England – at the start of the summer, will dictate the so-called favourites.

There ought to be a little bit of disappointment for the fans as it was meant to be a timely home series to consolidate the gains from the recent one-day triumphs in Australia and New Zealand. But looking on the other side, it was a timely reminder to the Indian team that they are not as settled as they claim, and they are vulnerable on a given day. If the team management wanted to use this series to look at certain players ahead of their selection to the World cup, they did not achieve their purpose. Barring Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah, Kedar Jadhav and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, none performed in a winning cause. Vijay Shankar had his moment of glory after a quick-fire knock, followed by two wickets in the final three deliveries at Nagpur.

Rishabh Pant is a curious case. The selectors eagerness to bring him into the team anyhow at any position appears desperate. At 21 years old, there is absolutely no logic in pushing this young man. He appears unsettled as more and more things are expected of him. England learnt a critical lesson in the Test series against West Indies recently. Just because some players are talented and / or in form, you cannot shuffle and play them wherever there is a hole. Pant is talented – no doubt about it but what is his correct position to bat? He cannot be taken as a wicketkeeper as Dhoni is too good even at this age. He was found wanting at number four as he is not the player to build an innings after the early collapse. He did not flourish as a finisher and Dinesh Karthik appears to have sealed that position along with Kedar Jadhav as the spinning all-rounder. Clearly the Pant experiment failed, and one only hope the young man has not lost his confidence.

The series proved for the umpteenth time about Dhoni’s utility in the team. This ageing soldier, at 37, plays a critical part in the team’s success. First as a batsman he is the ideal number four when chips are down. He can build the innings slowly and make it up the slow scoring later in the innings. In a case of finishing the match, still there is no batsmen in the world who can take it to the end in the most calculative way and finish the match. More importantly he guides the other finishers. In the earlier ODIs in Adelaide and then in Melbourne, the way he guided Karthik and Jadhav and won the match was simply outstanding. India was unable to finish in Delhi mainly because they played the big shots too early. Then Dhoni the wicket-keeper. Again, in the days of preferring a batsmanwicket-keeper, the talent behind the wickets is not at its best. But Dhoni is as skilful as any in the World. His stumpings are clean and fast and gathering for run outare exquisite and skilful. Last but not the least, Dhoni’s Captaincy skills are badly needed by Kohli. Where Kohli positions himself at long-on, it is Dhoni who takes charge and marshals the fielders in right position. The last two ODIs saw Kohli struggling in his field placements which normally is taken care of by Dhoni.

Former Test captain and legendary spinner Bishan Singh Bedi aptly summed up the plight of Kohli and the team, in Dhoni’s absence. “We all are wondering that why Dhoni is being rested. His absence was felt behind the stumps, with the bat and on field also. He is almost half a captain. Dhoni is not getting any younger, he is no spring chicken either, but the team needs him. He has a calming influence on the side. The captain needs him by his side. He is visibly rough without him. It is not a good sign.”

Clearly this series was a prelude to the World Cup. The team management must be confident that they have the squad for the event except one or two places. But that may not the case given the two-month IPL event that is starting on23rd March. There is a very high chance of injury or loss of form and it will be hard to ignore those players or select them blindly. Openers Sharma and Dhawan are set, despite their occasional hiccups and Rahul is on standby. With Kohli on three the player for number four is highly speculated with mixed messages from the team management. Rayudu, Pant, Shankar and Dhoni were tried most of it with little success. The finishers are Jadhav and Karthik followed by Hardik and the bowlers round up the eleven. The bowling slots look finalised and that is a great sign for India. Bowling coach, Bharat Arun, is quietly efficient, gets the job done in a calm, unruffled fashion. Arun is confident about India’s bowling pack ahead of the ICC ODI World Cup. “We have the bowling to win the World Cup. We have the right kind of pacemen, wrist spinners, finger spinner and support bowlers,” he said. Arun does not see the reverses in the home series as setbacks. “Credit to the Aussies, they played well. But we were also using the series to try out different players and combinations before the World Cup. And the games were close. We got to know about the areas we need to improve. Sometimes a defeat teaches you a lot,” he said. He also said, “We will be working closely with the bowlers during the IPL. They will be iven a specific programme to follow. We will be monitoring their fitness. Even if they face a minor fitness issue, the bowlers will report it to us.”

Arun said, “Look, during the season, Jasprit Bumrah was given a break and he looked sharp even in the last game against Australia. Bhuvneshwar was rested and when he came back he was clocking 140 kmph which is a good sign. And Mohammed Shami, such a dangerous bowler, too was given a break.” Arun added, “In Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar, India has two of the best ODI bowlers in world cricket. And Shami, with his speed and movement, can win you games. India has a formidable pace pack. And it is backed by a very good spin attack.” Arun signed off, “We are very confident. This is a very good Indian team that will be going to the World Cup.”

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