What will the Indian ODI squad look like for World Cup 2019?

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The selectors claim that only the number 4 slot is unsettled, but the Indian side appears to have bigger issues than what appear on paper — imbalance, all-rounders that aren’t, bowlers in regress...

The men in blue have had decent success in ODIs in recent times, but the team doesn’t quite select itself just yet... | AP

On April 15, 2019, the people who matter in the Indian cricketing setup will meet in Mumbai to select the squad for the upcoming World Cup. At a time when the IPL serves as a major distraction, one can rest assured that the decisions of this group will be watched closely; after all, the hopes of a gazillion fans rest on this special group of cricketers with a shot at immortality.

For Virat Kohli, this tournament will represent a watershed moment in his limited-overs captaincy career. After a string of impressive results around the world, the home-series loss to Australia was a spanner in the works. The poor results at Royal Challengers Bangalore have set the tongues wagging as well. Kohli was an up-and-coming player in the 2011 edition which India won, playing an important role in steadying the Indian innings on more than one occasion (most memorably in the final). Now, he’s the all-important batting champion around whom the entire team operates. His masterful batting has been absolutely crucial in papering over the middle-order cracks that have plagued this Indian team for a while now. There are some other headaches as well, caused by the muddled thinking on the part of the team management.

The make-up of the team that should be picked can be determined from recent trends. Since the 2015 World Cup, England has been the most expensive place for non-home bowlers — with the run-rate at ~6.13, it is the runaway leader for this period. While it is true that some of it may be due to a belligerent England team, who have been the standout batting team in this period, England is still the third-most expensive place for home bowlers (after Pakistan, who have played only three matches in this period, and Sri Lanka, who have been especially poor); meaning, pitches in England have been the flattest in the world since the 2015 World Cup.

Which bowlers have done well in England? In the same period, leggie Adil Rashid has been the highest wicket-taker; pacers such as Willey, Plunkett and Woakes have had decent returns as well. More importantly, finger spinners and part-timers have been on the receiving end, returning very expensive figures for their craft. Unless this English summer turns out to be unusually wet, there is no reason to believe situations will be very different from what has been the norm in the last four years. Hence, it is best to select the personnel accordingly.

With only the warm-up fixtures left before India’s first match against the South Africans on June 5 at the Rose Bowl, it is time to select the squad and back the personnel to come up with the goods. But who should make the cut? Despite statements that only all team slots but one were settled, the situation is more complicated considering the issues of team balance, middle-order batting, flexibility and bowling limitations. For better readability, the discussion has been demarcated into top-order batsmen, middle-order batsmen and wicket-keepers, all-rounders and spin bowlers, and fast bowlers. Readers are advised to keep in mind the player’s primary skill, and that there will be overlaps or conflicts depending on one’s personal opinion (for example, whether you think Kedar Jadhav or Vijay Shankar are all-rounders or not). The data has been organised into a table which contains information on the runs scored and wicket-taking in the last 10 ODI innings (where applicable) and on similar statistics from the ongoing IPL (with number of innings in brackets). Though IPL stats cannot be used straightaway to make a decision about ODI abilities, some insights can nevertheless be drawn. All stats provided are correct as on April 7, 2019.

 

Top order

Batsman

(last 10 innings) Runs scored @ SR

(IPL 2019) Runs scored @ SR

Rohit Sharma

371 @ 74

118 @ 123

Shikhar Dhawan

365 @ 91

152 @ 116

Lokesh Rahul

147 @ 78

142 @ 118

Virat Kohli

608 @ 95

203 @ 126

 

The current top 3 Indian batsmen comprise possibly the strongest top order in the ODI game right now. On their day, they can win matches on their own. But once the opposition finds a way through, India’s middle-order underbelly has been soft. Barring Kohli, none of these batsmen has been in sparkling touch recently but one of the openers should come good in England. Nonetheless, the top 3 select themselves. As far as the reserve opener is concerned, there aren’t any promising candidates apart from KL Rahul. He seems to enjoy the confidence of the team management despite having middling returns in the 14 matches that he has played in this format, and the team seems to have moved on from Rahane.

Middle-order

Player

(last 10 innings) Runs scored @ SR

(last 10 innings) Bowling Avg @ ER

(IPL 2019) Runs scored @ SR

(IPL 2019) Bowling Avg @ ER

Ambati Rayudu

247 @ 77

N/A

55 @ 77 (5 innings)

N/A

Kedar Jadhav

306 @100

57.2 @ 5.96

106 @ 96 (4 innings)

N/A

Vijay Shankar*

165 @ 96

94 @ 5.61

105 @ 144 (5 innings)

0/26 @ 8.66

MS Dhoni

357 @ 82

N/A

156 @ 125 (4 innings)

N/A

Rishabh Pant*

93 @ 131

N/A

176 @ 173 (6 innings)

N/A

Dinesh Karthik

242 @ 86

N/A

72 @ 129 (4 innings)

N/A

* the player has played fewer than 10 ODIs

Given the recent trend of maximising the scoring in the middle overs, the importance of Jadhav and Pandya (who’s listed as an all-rounder) to this line-up cannot be stated strongly enough. As it can be seen from their overall record and recent showing, they are the two batsmen who have the game to boost the run rate in the middle overs. While Dhoni has scored enough runs, he hasn’t done it quickly enough (although, it may well be good enough if he can play the anchor around whom the batting order pivots, much like Imran Khan did in 1992). Rayudu’s case is more complicated — he showed some promise until recently, when his performance dipped. But his bigger issue is that of strike rate; he has not been able to rotate the strike in tune with the demands of the modern game and the team cannot have two batting slowpokes in Dhoni and Rayudu. For this reason and for his below-average fielding, he may have to sit the big tournament out. Dinesh Karthik — an able deputy to Dhoni and a busy batsman in his new avatar — should get the nod ahead of Rishabh Pant, who is yet to show his mettle in the ODI format. Vijay Shankar’s case is the most interesting; he’s batted well so far in the limited chances that he’s got, has got the big shots, and is a splendid fielder to boot. But his bowling cannot be trusted on the biggest stage. Among the contenders, though, he’s probably the one alongside Jadhav who can chip in as the sixth bowling option.

All-rounders and spinners

Player

(last 10 innings) Runs scored @ SR

(last 10 innings) Bowling Avg @ ER

(IPL 2019) Runs scored @ SR

(IPL 2019) Bowling Avg @ ER

Hardik Pandya

147 @ 109

54.40 @ 5.47

102 @ 179 (5 innings)

36 @ 9.60 (5 innings)

Ravindra Jadeja

147 @ 70.33

46.20 @ 4.67

15 @ 75 (3 innings)

23.75 @ 5.93 (5 innings)

Yuzvendra Chahal

N/A

23.85 @ 5.50

N/A

18.33 @ 6.87 (6 innings)

Kuldeep Yadav

N/A

27.30 @ 5.54

N/A

51.67 @ 8.61 (5 innings)

 

Jadeja barely makes for an ODI all-rounder considering his inability to clear the field; besides, his ODI bowling has declined and his electric fielding ability cannot hide his other deficiencies. Hence, Jadeja is best considered as a spinner who is a handy batsman at no. 8. On his day, he can pull off a run-out and bowl a few tidy overs, but his downside on flat pitches outweighs any potential upside. Pandya, Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav should walk into the side.

Fast bowlers

Player

(last 10 innings) Runs scored @ SR

(last 10 innings) Bowling Avg @ ER

(IPL 2019) Bowling Avg @ ER

Mohammad Shami

N/A

26.18 @ 5.01

37.4 @ 9.35 (5 innings)

Jasprit Bumrah

N/A

23.94 @ 4.19

25.2 @ 6.75 (5 innings)

Bhuvneshwar Kumar

163 @ 24

22.37 @ 5.23

59.3 @ 9.36 (5 innings)

Umesh Yadav

N/A

35.14 @ 5.96

63 @ 8.49 (4 innings)

Khaleel Ahmed *+

N/A

30.73 @ 5.36

N/A

 

* the player hasn’t played in IPL 2019

+ the player has played in fewer than 10 ODIs

In his young career, Bumrah is already at a level higher than India’s greatest ever ODI fast bowlers. Without a doubt, he is the pace spearhead. Mohammed Shami, bowling with renewed pace and hostility, has solved the problem of opening bowling to some extent but, as his IPL figures show, he is expensive at the death. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar has regressed as a wicket-taking and containing bowler as well, but has done enough to slot in as the third seamer (not to mention, his fantastic batting ability at number 8 or 9). There is no clear candidate for the fourth seamer, but stats in England since the 2015 World Cup show that wrist spin and pace bowling have done better than finger spin. Umesh Yadav has been off-colour in the IPL, and Khaleel Ahmed, who has done decently for India in his few matches, hasn’t played for the Sunrisers. All things considered, I’d pick Khaleel over Jadeja for variety.

The weaknesses of this team? One, the team is a bit short of experience beyond the first 11. In 2011, Piyush Chawla, the least experienced member then, was 22 matches young; Virat Kohli, the other greenhorn in that side, had played 45 matches, with every other squad member having played many more matches. Two, the team is still over-reliant on its top order; while batting first, if there is a collapse, Dhoni has to be the glue in the middle order. In other fair-weather conditions, the bigger hitters have to bat ahead of him to maximise India’s scoring opportunities in the middle overs. Three, the bowling isn’t an effective deterrent yet; Bumrah is obviously world-class, but the others aren’t foolproof and Kuldeep Yadav’s novelty will probably wear thin over a long tournament. Five quality overs from Bumrah at the death are a given but how the team sends down five more overs without much damage will be the key to defending tricky totals.

 

My Starting XI:

Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah

4 substitutes: KL Rahul, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Vijay Shankar, Khaleel Ahmed

 

Prediction:

Barring the champion West Indies and Australia teams, the World Cup has been won by the “form” teams who raised their performances at the right time. With an extended round-robin phase, and with no current outstanding side (England has its own bowling weaknesses), the initial league matches will only serve as an appetiser, with the tournament coming alive in the last three matches. India has the ammunition to go all the way, but I suspect they will lose in the finals. Anything less than winning all but two matches and making the semifinals will be a massive underperformance.

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