India needs to address issues before World Cup

With no more ODIs left to play, it is unclear how this will happen

After India won one day international (ODI) series in Australia and New Zealand earlier this year, talk began to swirl of Virat Kohli’s team being one of the favourites for the World Cup. The 2-3 ODI series loss to Australia is evidence that such talk may be premature, and that India needs to address certain issues before the showpiece event begins in the end of May.

India has been missing the solid platform a strong opening partnership offers. Prior to Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan’s 193 run stand in the fourth ODI against Australia, India’s opening partnership was averaging less than 40 in 2019. Dhawan especially has been poor. Between the Asia Cup in September 2018 and his century in the fourth ODI, he scored 377 runs in 16 innings at an average of 25.13. The middle order is brittle. The dependence on Kohli is too huge.

The team selection remains a conundrum. Too much chopping and changing are not allowing certain players to settle. In which position will KL Rahul play? Will he play at all? What about Vijay Shankar? Who, among the spinners, should be picked on flat English surfaces? There are no easy answers.

Then there is the baffling insistence on sticking with Mahendra Singh Dhoni instead of trusting in the future exemplified by Rishabh Pant. Dhoni is no longer the finisher he used to be. He takes too long to play himself in; the modern game, with its frenetic pace and its trait of no total being secure enough, has left him behind. But Dhoni is certain to be selected. As a result, only one of Pant and Dinesh Karthik will be in the squad. Who will it be? It would have been better to have had both.

Finally, there is the matter of preparation. Between now and the beginning of the World Cup in England, India’s first-team players will preoccupy themselves with playing in the Indian Premier League. A long, exhausting, Twenty20 tournament is the worst way to get ready for a World Cup. There is likely to be fatigue and burnout; there is the chance of players turning up undercooked in foreign conditions. The players know this. The cricket board knows this. No one is saying anything about it.

A fair amount of work needs to be done. With India playing no more ODIs before the World Cup, quite how this will happen is unclear.

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