AUSTRALIA TOUR OF INDIA, 2019
India have somehow managed to land back on square one that reads – options galore, solution pending. © Getty
Damned if they do, damned if they don’t. India, for quite some time, haven’t been short of hit-and-trials in their bid to nail down the best eleven but post the conclusion of their last bilateral series before the World Cup, India continue to seek the personnel they started the series looking out for.
What do we take away from the ODI series against Australia then?
India’s Rishabh Pant-or-Dinesh Karthik decision gets tougher
Going by the squads that India picked over the last one year, Dinesh Karthik seemed unrivaled for the position of a second-choice wicketkeeper for the World Cup. Until, of course, India decided to trial Rishabh Pant – with an experience of three ODIs – right at the end. Once they made up their mind to tread along such a complex path – of leaving Karthik in a bit of a limbo after sticking by him for so long – the one logical way out for the team would’ve been to offer Pant all five games to try and make his case, and usurp Karthik fair and square.
But that was not to be, as Pant warmed the bench for the first three fixtures and was then expected to somehow capture the selectors’ attention in Mohali and Delhi. He came close with a cameo in Mohali, but his wicketkeeping skills drew lots of criticism – and chants of “Dhoni, Dhoni” – from the stands. All was still not lost for the Delhi boy, as he got the chance to combine with Rohit Sharma in a rescue mission on his home ground batting at No.4. He managed just a run-a-ball 16, leaving the selectors none-the-wiser.
Picking Pant based on these two outings might be grossly unfair on Karthik, even if the former is viewed as the future and deserves all the backing. Reverting to Karthik too might mean taking a squad member devoid of confidence, after having replaced him in the most crucial audition for the World Cup.
No.4 mystery is still unsolved
Since making his ODI comeback at the Asia Cup, Ambati Rayudu has batted at No.4 in 12 out of the 19 ODIs that India played till the start of the Australia series, making 431 runs at an average of 53.87. He’d swooped in through an impressive 2018 IPL season with Chennai Super Kings and seemed to have solved a problem that now stretched for over two years. And yet it seems like the Indian think-tank still doesn’t trust him completely at the crucial position. Rayudu followed up his chart-topping performance in New Zealand (160 runs in 5 innings at 63.33) with three unimpressive outings against Australia (13, 18 and 2) where he looked all at sea against Adam Zampa’s leg spin and got easily hurried by Pat Cummins’s pace.
If Rayudu has indeed lost the faith rested in him by the team management, who swoops in at two drop right at the World Cup? MS Dhoni moves up from No.5? Rishabh Pant gets picked as a pure batsman to slot in? The impressive Vijay Shankar gets the nod? Or they go the Mohali ODI way with KL Rahul at three as Virat Kohli steps down to No.4?
Once again, India have somehow managed to land back on square one that reads – options galore, solution pending.
#KulCha may not be forever
“It’s all about combinations, but I don’t see one ahead of the other in the pecking order. Both of them together are the strongest spin-bowling partnership in the world at the moment,” said Virat Kohli about the Kuldeep Yadav-Yuzvendra Chahal combo ahead of the series.
Interestingly, though, this strongest spin partnership has featured together in just three of the last 10 ODIs played in India – In Vizag and Pune against Windies and in Mohali against Australia. Funnily enough, India didn’t win any of those three games. This correlation may be coincidental and dependent on several other factors like the absence of Hardik Pandya, the playing conditions (like the dew in Mohali) or simply the team management’s trial with Ravindra Jadeja. But the fact remains, every time India get unsure of their batting depth, they consider breaking this successful wrist-spin partnership.
On statistical evidence, it would appear that the management is slightly tilted towards Kuldeep Yadav. Even among the exclusive group of wrist-spinners, the left-arm wristspinner remains something of an exotic species. Kuldeep’s ability to turn the ball both ways and his unorthodox left-arm over the wicket gives him the edge over Chahal, who has, over the last few series, shelved his googly in search of drift to the wide tossed-up delivery.
It’s a weird situation that Chahal finds himself in, considering just a year ago in South Africa, he was called to bowl the pressure overs with Kohli preferring his control and temperament to Kuldeep’s sometimes erratic magic.
Vijay Shankar is valued
Vijay Shankar was picked to temporarily fill the Hardik Pandya void, but five appearances against Australia has given India so much more. Shankar gave Virat Kohli a closer demonstration of his batting appetite in a partnership through the middle-overs in Nagpur, and displayed acumen of a top-order batsman – which he has been for his state side across formats.
Shankar may still not entirely conform to the ‘all-rounder’ tag in India colours, but bowling coach Bharat Arun believes his batting has now rubbed off on his bowling – even making him about 10kmph quicker. Successfully defending 11 off the final over in Nagpur could also have had a hand in adding to his confidence.
Come the World Cup, Hardik Pandya will walk back into the playing XI to rightfully reclaim his all-rounder’s spot, but Shankar may have edged his case in his straight shoot-out with Ravindra Jadeja for a spot in the squad. Both fared well in their primary skill, both are excellent fielders. Who do India want more? A batsman who can bowl a bit or a bowler who can bat a bit?
Hardik Pandya is the central piece in the jigsaw
Bharat Arun, the bowling coach, said his brief to the bowling unit was simple: “Kedar [Jadhav] has done the job on many occasions. But as long as we don’t let him bowl, you have done a great job.”
Kedar Jadhav bowled 23 overs across the five games, nearly three more than what a regular bowler like Marcus Stoinis did for Australia [Stoinis did play one game less]. By simple average, that equates to approximately four overs a game, which is about the 70:30 balance that Kohli sought from the fifth-bowling pair of Hardik Pandya and Jadhav at the 2017 Champions Trophy and Pandya has evolved as a bowler since.
Part of the reason for Jadhav’s extra bowling workload here was the presence of a slightly lesser bowler in Vijay Shankar. Pandya’s return will provide balance on multiple fronts, given India will have three seam-bowling options even if they have to choose between Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (a decision they’re still to make). Pandya, the batsman, allows both wrist spinners to play and can also feature in a combination with Vijay Shankar in the event of pitch requiring both a stockpiling of seam bowlers as well as adding heft to the batting.