Get Rishabh Pant into World Cup mix

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Get Rishabh Pant into World Cup mix

Virat Kohli could come back to No.4 slot

Nobody ever says too much cricket is being played. As the Men in Blue round off their long tour to Australia and New Zealand, the mood is one of cheer for results achieved in Tests and ODIs.

These days, when for almost anything and everything you hear, "How is the Josh?" line from movie Uri, the Indian cricket team is no exception. There are memes on social media on the Indian cricket team as well and conversations taking place between Virat Kohli, coach Ravi Shastri and the gang.

Yes, the josh was high till Trent Boult struck at Hamilton in the fourth ODI with his sharp movement to wreck the Indians for 94 runs. In almost no time, the knives were out for the Indian cricket team, in typical knee-jerk fashion.

The problem with cricket experts, be it the former players or those who have never played even at the gully level, is they have an opinion. At a time when social media comes up with praise or condemnation within minutes in real time, reactions to India's defeat were sharp.

Agreed, one loss was not a big deal but it certainly managed to highlight a very relevant point about how this Indian ODI side has plenty of problems with the misfiring middle order. Till now, with the top three clicking and ageless wonder MS Dhoni also proving his competitive touch in Australia, the middle order did not come under scrutiny.

If you carefully look at results where India have lost, it has been a case of the middle order not delivering when the top order failed. That happened, notably, in Hamilton.

Once the team returns to India, there will still be a lot of good press. Virat Kohli has got a well-deserved break and is spending quality time with wife Anushka Sharma, as is evident from his social media posts. Dhoni pulled his hamstring and has been forced to take a break.

In the next few months before the ICC World Cup in England, India are not expected to play more than half a dozen ODIs. These matches at home cannot be taken lightly as it will serve as a valuable test for players who are on the fringe.

Almost everyone who loves cricket, which is a few millions in India, has at one point or the other, already jotted down his or her Indian squad for the World Cup and what the final XI will be. While one does not have to spend too much time thinking about the top two batting slots, there is scope for a lot of tinkering from No.3 position downwards.

One has seen in the ODIs played recently, the middle order slots revolve around Ambatti Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav and Dinesh Karthik. Shubhman Gill has also been flown out but it would be good if there could be some change from the one-drop position.

The general impression is Rishabh Pant has been kept only for the Tests and T20s, but he would be a good candidate to play at the No.3 slot, so that Kohli can come in at the No.4 slot.

Kohli has in the past opened the innings, batted at No.4 and even in some matches come lower down. The think-tank can ponder over Pant at the No.3 slot as he is in rich form and has been quite successful in England.

Having scored a ton each in England and Australia, aggressive Pant could well play the World Cup purely as a batsman and chip in handsomely. It's well known how big a hit Rishabh Pant was in Australia and made life miserable for the Aussies with his non-stop chatter.

Weather conditions in England are bound to be different when compared to Australia, and this is where the middle order woes will look more pronounced should the top order fail. It has been a cold and wet winter in the United Kingdom and in summer there will be movement through the air and off the pitch.

This is where it could be a good ploy to get Pant bat at No.3 and Kohli comes in at No.4. In the past, when Kohli batted at the No.4 position from 2009 to 2014, he scored 1,744 runs in 37 innings at an average of 58.13. It also included seven centuries and eight half-centuries.

To be sure, given the thought process in the Indian team and Shastri now getting a lot of credit for India's performances in Tests and ODIs, all options need to be looked at for bolstering the middle order. Rayudu can only bat as his bowling action has come under scrutiny from the ICC. Kedar Jadhav has done reasonably well.

It's now a case of almost all options having been tried out for the middle order and smart picking will now come into play. Luckily, the fast bowling and spin combinations seem in good health. After all, India's bowling has been a big hit in recent months.