Get set, go...

India’s series victory against South Africa, in the six-match one-day international, has made them stand at number one position. Our team performed really well.  As no Indian cricket team had ever won a series there, it made the victory even more special. The South Africans were completely out-played in the game. The winning combo for India, not surprisingly, were the two wrist spinners, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. I had mentioned it before the Test series that India had missed a trick by not including a wrist spinner in their touring test squad. They must be regretting this retrospectively. Their presence would have made a difference in the final outcome of the Test series. It is always easy to analyse a situation later but players from South Africa, West Indies and England are all suspect to good accurate leg-spin or China-man bowling. This is precisely why the Indian selectors needed to include one and that their absence did cost India dearly. The Indian side under Virat Kohli is truly commendable. They are playing a positive and aggressive cricket. The Indian U-19 Cricket team and the Women’s Cricket team have shown the same approach and confidence that one sees in their seniors.

The Indian teams 2019 World Cup preparation seems to be heading in the right direction. There was a worry about the form and failure of Rohit Sharma, one of best limited over batsmen in the world. The team management must be complemented to persist with him. He came through with flying colours in the fifth match by scoring another scintillating century. The form of the opening combination of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma is very important for India. Both of them are destructive players, who can demolish any attack on their day. Virat Kohli, following them in the batting order, makes them into a very lethal trio. Kohli is playing like a champion and has now stunned the cricket world by his achievements. He is already being compared to the King of One day cricket, Sir Vivian Richard. Kohli’s stroke play is very similar and although his walk to the wicket may not be as daunting as the master, his consistent performance has made him as frightening as the legendry king.

The worry for India is the middle order. Neither Ajinkya Rahane nor Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer have managed to cement their place firmly. Batting in the middle is one of the most difficult aspects of a limited over game. A Yuvraj Singh or a Suresh Raina at their best were ideal for this slot, as they could score at a very good run-rate. Both of them when needed played the big shots and were also very good fielders, as well as possible bowling options. Kedar Jadhav proved to be a success in India with his round arm off-spin bowling because in India the ball keeps low, but on wickets overseas, the bounce and slowness of the wicket, makes him an easy picking for the batsmen. The Indian teams worry is in filling the number 4 and 5 position. The performance of players in the domestic 50 over game, the Vijay Hazare Trophy being played among the 28 state sides and the Syed Mushtaq Ali 20-20 tournament held earlier, should give the Indian selectors the opportunity to find alternative players in the event that the present middle-order batsmen do not perform well.

Furthermore, India’s two hard-hitting batsmen are not delivering the goods. Hardik Pandya ﷓ an ideal hard-hitting all-rounder for India has just not got his act together. He needs to be nurtured and developed as at present he gives one the impression of being like “a cat on a hot tin roof”. He seems very anxious and unsettled when he goes into bat and this is effecting his thought process and hence, his shot selection. MS Dhoni on the other hand looks to have lost his natural instinct and ability to hit the big shots.

He appears to have gone into a shell and seems to be burdened with the responsibility of carrying the lower order batsmen to follow. This could be a strategy that the team management has instilled into him but he needs to break his shackles and play the way he did earlier by hitting the ball without a care and remorse. He was famous for his innovative and unconventional shots and this is what he needs to do, to be more effective. India requires his natural flair and flamboyant approach rather than his calculative one.

The Indian bowling has been extraordinary. The bowlers have shown that they are one of the best bowling units in limited overs cricket. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah have been terrific and along with the two wrist spinners, they have been match winners. The problem, however, that arises, is that none of them could be depended on to bat. Although, Bhuvneshwar has given us a few glimpses of his capabilities as a batsman, he is still not someone whom the team could rely on to win a match in a tight situation. The luxury of having two wrist spinners in the team, both of them with nil contribution as a batsman, is not an answer that the Indian team can continue to have to be successful in the future. They need a spin all-rounder who can bat as well as bowl. India is touring England this summer and one hopes that the Indian selectors, rather than going for the tried and tested, experiment and think out of the box.

(The author is a former India cricketer)

Yajurvindra Singh