Imagine a scenario in Formula One racing where Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton has won seven consecutive races quite convincingly and is on top of the drivers’ championship. All parts are functioning according to expectations and the car is responding to the driver brilliantly. Come race number eight, Mercedes’ engineers suggest to the Director that they need to tweak the car. What are the odds that the Director would allow the engineers to change something to a car that has driven so wonderfully and has produced the results? Common sense tells me the Director would resist the change, unless of course it was an earth-shattering change or was needed to prevent a disaster.
Now, let’s set the scene in 2019 and focus on the Indian cricket team. Virat Kohli’s team is riding a high after registering a maiden Test series win in Australia; they follow it up with a win in the ODI series too. It then dawns on someone in the system that the World Cup is just months away, and that they should identify the players who can make ‘quality reserves’ in the World Cup squad. Over the next few series, the Indian team management decides to give opportunities to those on the fringes – those who will only get a look-in should any of the first XI players lose form or suffer an injury during the World Cup – only to meet with disastrous results.
Since that decision to use international fixtures as ‘audition platforms’, India has now lost three consecutive series. India lost the T20I series in New Zealand and against Australia at home, and last night lost the 5-match ODI series against Australia.
The last time an Indian team lost three consecutive bilateral series across formats was more than five years ago – end of 2013 and beginning of 2014.
The ODI series loss to Australia also ended a streak of 6 consecutive home series wins.
Why would someone tinker with a team which has been functioning so well and compromise on current results in a bid to win a World Cup – which is not a given? It would’ve been sensible for the Indian team management to first secure the series they’re currently playing, then look at giving opportunities to those on the bench.
Given all the talk about India’s system, about how the IPL has bridged the gap between domestic and international levels, and players getting so many India A tours, can a case really be made for international fixtures to be used as auditions? I don’t suppose.
Now, the Indian team has run out of all international fixtures in the run up to the World Cup, and yet, it does not appear as though they have answers to the questions they sought answers for.
In reply to a question posed at the post-match presentation, the Indian captain Virat Kohli sounded confident in saying they had achieved what they had set out to achieve; he said, "We are more or less sorted. Now, it’s about giving guys their roles and expecting them to stand up. We are not at all confused. Maybe there’s just one spot we’ve to discuss.”
Twelve Certainties in India’s World Cup Squad
Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya, Kedar Jadhav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal.
Not one of the players who were speculated as being contenders for a place in the World Cup squad grabbed the opportunity and nailed down their spot.
KL Rahul, following scores of 50 & 47 in the two T20is against Australia, batted at number three in the only ODI he played against Australia; he walked in to bat in the 32nd over and made a fluent 26 before being dismissed with 7 overs remaining in the innings.
Vijay Shankar has shown promise, but his highest score in the five innings he’s batted remains 46 – despite having the opportunity to bat longer on a couple of occasions. Further, the 28-year-old only picked up two wickets in the five ODIs against Australia – and wasn’t called on to bowl in the final ODI.
There was a case being made in certain quarters for Rishabh Pant to be considered a specialist batsman; in the two T20Is against Australia, he was dismissed for scores of 3 and 1, and then made 36 & 16 in the final two ODIs against Australia.
Dinesh Karthik made 1 & 8 not out in the two T20Is against Australia and was not picked in the ODI side for the series against Australia.
Ravindra Jadeja did not feature in the T20Is against Australia. In the ODI series against the Aussies, he made 21, 24 & 0 in the three opportunities he got to bat, and picked up 3 wickets in 40 overs. His economy rate of 4.75 was impressive, and he was an asset on the field. But with Kedar Jadhav being a certainty in the Indian team, is there room for Jadeja – who is pretty similar in what he brings to the table?
Khaleel Ahmed didn’t feature in the home series against Australia. In the 8 ODIs he has played till date, his returns read: 11 wickets, average 30.72, economy 5.36. Most recently, the Rajasthan pacer picked up 12 wickets in four matches in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 competition.
It needs to be highlighted that Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are the only three specialist fast bowlers among the World Cup certainties, and India need to bolster that department. India definitely need to pick another fast bowler in the side, and one can only guess who that fourth pacer will be.
So then, did all this experimentation really help?
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