The last international assignment of India before World Cup 2019 is over. Treated as the final dress rehearsal before the iconic event, India expected to tighten their loose screws in the recently concluded ODI series against Australia.
With almost all the slots filled up for the World Cup squad, it was expected that India would give more game time to the reserve players to help fine-tune their game. Also, this was the last chance for some players to eliminate the rust from their performances.
However, things did not go as everyone expected. India fielded their best possible XI in the first three ODIs, which meant less game time for those who were warming the bench and auditioning for the few slots in the World Cup squad which were still up for grabs. The eventual 3-2 defeat also exposed some areas where India really need to work upon if they want to put up a strong challenge in the World Cup.
Here are three questions which India will have to ponder after the recently concluded series, before going to England for the World Cup:
#1 Is Rishabh Pant good enough to be the backup for MS Dhoni?
The left handed wicketkeeper-batsman has already established himself in Test cricket in a very short period of time. Widely considered the successor to MS Dhoni, Pant is yet to prove himself in limited overs cricket.
The selectors dropped veteran Dinesh Karthik to give Pant a good run in the 50-over format before taking the final call. However, he was given only two matches.
Looking at his scores of 35 and 16, accompanied by his shoddy glove-work in the 4th ODI against Australia, it has become difficult to justify his selection as a backup for MS Dhoni. His impatient attitude while batting and scratchy work behind the stumps have raised questions over his spot in the World Cup squad.
#2 Can Vijay Shankar be the sixth bowling option?
Vijay Shankar has impressed everyone with his batting in the limited opportunities he has got recently. He is now one of the strong contenders for the World Cup squad.
However, using him as the sixth bowling option in the World Cup is still a question to be answered. Apart from the 3rd ODI against Australia, where he bowled 8 overs, he was not tested as a bowler much - although he showed great temperament by taking two wickets and winning the game in the last over in the 2nd ODI.
It was strange to see him not bowling in the 5th ODI because he is someone who can replace Hardik Pandya in case of an injury, and should be able to bowl 7-8 overs if a bowler has an off day in the field. Not giving enough overs to him to bowl has indeed raised the question of using him as the sixth bowling option.
#3 Who is India's No. 4?
India have taken several auditions for the No. 4 position in the recent times. Plenty of players like Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul etc. have been tried and tested, but too much chopping and changing hasn't allowed anyone to seal the spot.
Ambati Rayudu showed consistency in Asia Cup 2018 and the ODI series against West indies that followed, but his weaknesses were exposed in the fast bowling conditions in Australia and New Zealand. His inability to rotate the strike and shortcomings against fast bowling cost him the No. 4 position after the 3rd ODI against Australia.
India have played Rishabh Pant at No. 4, and even Virat Kohli batted there once. Looking at how India are shuffling players, it seems as though they are yet to get out of the No. 4 conundrum.
Who will be India's No. 4? Will India persist with Rayudu, or will someone like Vijay Shankar or KL Rahul replace him? Or will Dinesh Karthik make into the World Cup squad as the No. 4 batsman? It seems that the slot is now up for grabs by anyone.
With only three months left for the World Cup 2019, India are yet to find the answers to these questions. Although India are a formidable side and a strong contender for the coveted trophy, a loose screw or two may cost them their World Cup dream.
It will be interesting to see how Indian team management and selection committee find a way to answer these questions before the World Cup.