How India's lack of planning could cost them in the World Cup
Updated: Nov 10, 2018
India last won a World Cup in 2011. 4 years earlier, there was an embarrassing early exit for the Indian side, and this was a team with many Indian legends: Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, not to mention 2 players who would later become Indian legends in Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh. None of these guys had won a World Cup. Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly never would.
It took a moment of such a large magnitude for India to eventually put 4 years worth of planning to finally win a World Cup after 28 years, a lifelong dream for Tendulkar, Sehwag, Zaheer and Gambhir finally achieved, one billion hearts satisfied. That’s what it takes to win a World Cup (unless it just all comes together at the right time like for Australia in 1999 and 1987 or India in 1983). Australia planned their 2015 heist quietly in the dark for 4 years after their reign was ended by India, Pakistan likewise for their conquest in 1992 led by Imran Khan, Javed Miandad and Wasim Akram, and it is what England have done since 2015.
The upheaval in their ODI side since the last World Cup has all been building towards the showpiece event : the 2019 World Cup.
Of course, England haven’t won the tournament yet, but it is why they are favourites. They have been assembling a side for 4 years, bringing in players like Jason Roy and Alex Hales in early in the process and sticking with them. They had a complete change in philosophy, so players like Morgan, Root, Stokes and Buttler could play their natural game without retributions. To complement that strategy, they brought in many bowling all rounders such as Willey, Plunkett and Rashid to give depth to their batting.
India, on the other hand, have not been building for this long. India have a good side, but it isn’t a world conquering side. It is a real possibility that the Indian side that will play in the World Cup is not the best Indian side that could be put out, had India just planned for a little while longer.
Looking at the Indian side from the 2015 World Cup Semi Final defeat to Australia and comparing it to the one now, Jadeja and Ashwin were axed just after the Champions Trophy, and their replacements (Kuldeep and Chahal) have had enough playing time before the World Cup. India have found a worthy all rounder in Hardik Pandya, and 2 fantastic replacements for Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami in Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah. The problem, ironically enough for a ‘batting country’ like India’s is in fact with India’s batting.
India’s top 3 has remained the same, only they are now more formidable than ever with Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma holding the top 2 spots in the ODI batting rankings with Shikhar Dhawan at 9th.
The problem lies in the positions 4-7. Ajinkya Rahane, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul, Kedar Jadhav and now Ambati Rayudu have all been tried at number 4. There is some serious talent on this list, and with the exception of perhaps Rahane and Yuvraj (their form dropped off drastically), none of these players were justifiably removed from the position. The problem is that because India’s top 3 are so incredibly good, the number 4 and 5 are very rarely severely tested (i.e. coming in before the 15th over).
MS Dhoni was removed because he was batting too slowly, but did the selectors seriously think that Dhoni would do better down the order? If Dhoni plays, he really should play at 4 where he can take his time a little more. He isn’t the big hitter that he used to be anymore, so batting him at 6 only harms the team.
Manish Pandey played possibly the best ODI innings I have ever seen by a non Rohit or Kohli Indian. His hundred in Sydney was just incredible, but he suffered a drop in form. The selectors should’ve stuck with him instead of swiftly moving on.
Dinesh Karthik was immaculate at number 4, scoring for fun at that position, but inexplicably, he was still dropped. It begged the question why he was picked in the first place if he was always going to be dropped again.
Shreyas Iyer technically batted at 3 as Kohli moved to 4, and he did well in his limited opportunities, but Iyer too, was inexplicably dropped from the side.
KL Rahul didn’t get nearly enough opportunities as he should have done at 4 (it didn’t help that he didn’t take the ones that he did get) but he should’ve been given more chances.
Kedar Jadhav was apparently better suited lower in the order even though at 4 you need someone that comes in and scores quickly without taking risks, a role that Jadhav is perfect for. His 120(76) coming in at 63-4 chasing 356 vs England was stuff of dreams, and showed that Jadhav has some serious mettle in him.
Ambati Rayudu, after a good series against West Indies, looks like the person who will actually finally get the number 4 spot for the World Cup, and when the top 3 score he plays the supporting role absolutely perfectly but can he chase 330 if Kohli or Rohit get out early?
In my opinion, right now there are only 3 people in Indian cricket who are capable of this task : Rishabh Pant (on an exceptionally good day) , Kedar Jadhav and KL Rahul. KL Rahul is capable of batting at an absolutely ferocious pace, and had the selectors gave him extended opportunities earlier (i.e. 10 innings in a row) instead of a game here or there like they did with most of the names above or had Kohli gone in at 4 and pushed the designated number 4 up to 3 for a few games so they would get batting time, then India would be a lot better placed.
It is looking like the Indian side will be something like this : 1. Rohit , 2. Dhawan , 3. Kohli , 4. Rayudu , 5. Dhoni , 6. Jadhav , 7. Pandya , 8. Bhuvi , 9. Kuldeep , 10. Chahal , 11. Bumrah.
There are a few problems with this side though.
The difference between England and other sides is that they bat all the way down to number 9 and 10, whereas India bat to number 7 or 8. This puts a lot of pressure on the top order to see the innings through. If England are 6 down and they need 7 an over for 10-12 overs, they will still probably win (depending on whose overs are remaining), if India are in that position, they will probably lose. Bhuvneshwar is great if you’re chasing anything under 250 but you need boundaries if you’re chasing over 250, and it isn’t the smartest idea to have him at number 8. This is why you need Pandya, Jadeja and Jadhav in the side. You get 6 bowling options and the extra depth needed with the batting. Chahal’s lack of use of the googly means that he really only turns it one way, like Jadeja. Ravi Ashwin with all of his variations is also worth a try in my view before the World Cup. India have 13 ODIs before the start of the World Cup, which isn’t a lot, but they have to try as many players as they can in the all rounder role to see which players can be trusted in pressure situations.
The other big issue is the 4-5-6 positions. The selectors have kept their faith in Dhoni and their lack of experimentation with the keepers spot means they really have no choice but to keep playing Dhoni and hope he pulls through. Dhoni’s form has completely nosedived and it is clear he is no longer the master finisher that he used to be. Because of this, he should really be batting at 4 if he is in the side because of the extra time he now needs to settle in. Had India been planning for the World Cup for 4 years (or even 2 years), they could’ve slotted in Pant earlier and gave him time to develop into the finisher role. 13 ODIs with the strength of the top order is no longer enough to test any middle order options because realistically, they will only bat in approximately 8 of the games and only be tested in around 5 of the games. Kedar Jadhav is one player that can score very quickly and is a very adaptable cricketer. He is a perfect pick for the number 5 spot but with the number 5 probably going to Dhoni, in reality, he will probably bat one position too low at 6. If Pant were to have been tried and tested earlier, then he could potentially have taken up the finisher role at 6. If it didnt work then Dhoni was always an option that the selectors could have fallen back on.
For the number 4 position, Ambati Rayudu, like I said earlier, is a perfect player to give support to Rohit and Kohli in whatever situation, but in my opinion what India need from their number 4 is a player who has the potential to get a 100 off 80 balls in a steep chase when India lose early wickets, and I am very unsure whether Rayudu is the man for that job. Again, 13 ODIs probably isn’t enough for a new number 4 to be tested given the strength of the top 3, so the solution is a little left field. Move Kohli down to 4 and get a number 3 who can bat at an express pace if need be and make full use of the first 15-20 overs so Rohit and Dhawan can settle in, and Kohli can take the 1s and 2s in the middle overs. The solution, in my opinion, is KL Rahul. Rahul has the potential, if given time, to bat very quickly and he can get the big hundreds as well from number 3. It will also mean that the likelihood of Rohit and Kohli, India’s best 2 batsmen, being dismissed very early is significantly reduced as KL Rahul will have to be dismissed in between.
India’s best lineup with prior planning : 1. Rohit , 2. Dhawan , 3. Rahul , 4. Kohli , 5. Jadhav , 6. Pant , 7. Pandya , 8. Jadeja , 9. Bhuvi , 10. Kuldeep , 11. Bumrah
In reality, Pant will probably not be in the World Cup side and it’ll be Rayudu-Dhoni-Jadhav at 4-5-6. The most realistic change out of the ones above, but arguably the most important one, is Jadeja coming in for Chahal and giving the Indian side more depth and more bowling options.
Khaleel is a fantastic find and an important one, as India need more quicks in the one day format in case something happens to Bhuvi and Bumrah.
The selectors have done a few things right for India, introducing Kuldeep and Chahal, bringing back Jadeja, finding Khaleel, but more could’ve been done to ensure India were completely prepared for winning a 3rd World Cup trophy in England this summer.