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Wanted: a top batsman who can bowl, to ensure team balance

India would look to tighten the noose around a struggling New Zealand with a barrage of spin in the second ODI in Mount Maunganui on Saturday.   | Photo Credit: Kerry Marshall

No country ever won the World Cup by accident. India might have been 66-1 outsiders in 1983 when they won, but the team then was the perfect exemplar of the tactical and technical nature of the one-day game at that point. Successful teams relied on batsmen who could bowl and bowlers who could bat — all-rounders, to stretch a point — and India applied that theory the best. It was a game of medium pacers. Roger Binny rather than Kapil Dev or Mohinder Amarnath typified the ODI player of the day.

In the two tournaments before that, Australia had decided, against the prevailing orthodoxy, that bowlers served their teams best by taking wickets rather than by restricting runs. But in the 1970s, the West Indies had such great teams that they seemed above theory and beyond patterns that worked for others.

In that decade it was difficult to imagine a team that could upset them, so naturally did they take to the format and so easily could they field two world-class teams, such was their strength.

And then India happened, and everything changed. Despite 2011, the win in1983 must remain the more significant, for it showed how a great team could be beaten.

At this year’s World Cup — just over four months away — it will be 40 years since the once-dominant West Indies last triumphed. In sporting terms, that is three whole generations.

Certainities

By now the Indian selectors should have short-listed the players for the World Cup commencing May 30. The top three and the bottom three — Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Bhuvaneswar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami — are certainties. Spinners Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja and Yuzvendra Chahal would seem to have booked their places in the squad too.

The remaining slots — one opening batsman, two in the middle order, one wicketkeeper (perhaps two, both who fit in as batsmen), two bowling batsman or batting bowlers — are important.

It might mean a pure batsman or a pure bowler losing out to someone who can do a bit of both. In English conditions that would mean a dibbly-dobbly bowler, a type that seems to thrive there, and has not been given his due in One-Day Internationals.

The World Cup is no place to experiment or build for the future; teams go in with their best players and focus on balance. Balance involves all rounders, even the bits-and-pieces players who are generally looked down upon in red ball cricket but are invaluable in the white ball format.

India’s one handicap currently (despite the successes in Australia and New Zealand) is the lack of a batsman in the top six who can also bowl. In 1983, three of the top six bowled; in 2011, four of the top six bowled in the final if you count Virat Kohli’s lone over. Virender Sehwag, who did not bowl in that match, finished with 96 ODI wickets overall.

In the third ODI in New Zealand recently which India won to wrap up the series, only one batsman in the top six — Kedar Jadhav — also bowled. The highest-ranked Indian all rounder in the ICC’s rankings list is Kuldeep Yadav, and that tells us something. The true all-rounder, capable of being chosen either for batting or bowling alone, is increasingly becoming a rarity.

In the period between the last World Cup in England (1999) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s final six that sealed the 2011 tournament, India could usually call upon three or four bowlers in the top six who finished their careers with a significant bag of wickets. Tendulkar had 154 wickets, Sourav Ganguly 100 and Yuvraj Singh 111 to add to Sehwag’s haul. It meant greater options for the team, and the opportunity of playing an extra batsman, maybe even two.

Best bet!

Not so long ago, Rohit Sharma would occasionally turn his arm over, but he doesn’t nowadays. Of the rest, Dhawan and Ambati Rayudu both have dodgy actions, and the best bet seems to be Dhoni who has a nice line in medium pace!

India play a minimum of seven ODI before the IPL and the World Cup, and that might not give them enough time to experiment with a batsman-who-bowls-a-bit in the top order. Especially since the team management (read: Kohli) feels that it is more important to win every match than to experiment and open a door to possible defeat. It will mean that Jadhav and Jadeja might have bigger roles to play along with Hardik Pandya.

Will it be two medium pacers and two spinners and a bowling all-rounder? Or three medium pacers and two spinners, with at least two who can also bat?

India do not go into the World Cup as favourites — whatever the team rankings, hosts England probably start that way — but they are just a whit behind. Will an unexpected name emerge between now and then, someone who will plug the one gap the team currently seems to have?

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2021 1:17:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/wanted-a-top-batsman-who-can-bowl-to-ensure-team-balance/article26122486.ece

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