Embarrassment of Riches For the Selectors
The main strength of the ODI squad is its bench strength
After being ranked No 1 in Tests, No 1 in ODIs and No 3 inT-20 internationals the question is whether Indian cricket has ever had it so good. Yes, there have been purple patches in one format or the other in the past but never before has Indian cricket enjoyed such a lofty status across all three formats. And while the immediate goals are to perform well in the Test contests in England and Australia the long term goal is the 2019 World Cup in England.
Given the manner in which the team has been performing particularly in ODIs there is little doubt that this is the prize every Indian cricket follower wants their team to bring back to the country.
The 5-1 series victory in South Africa has set off a mood of euphoria in the minds and hearts of Indian cricket fans who feel that the cricketers can do no wrong and there is every chance of a third World Cup triumph a feat which only Australia has surpassed with five such victories.
The scenario is very much akin to the one that prevailed in 2002. India won the Natwest Trophy in England in 2002 with one of their really great batting feats in history in the title clash against England, chasing down a target of 326 with two wickets and three balls to spare – and this after being 146 for five.
That incredible victory made everyone to look ahead to the World Cup to be held in South Africa eight months later and predict that the Indians had a realistic chance of winning the mega event since the nucleus of a trophy winning side was already in place. Under the circumstances finishing as runners-up to holders Australia – a mighty force in ODIs at the time - was not a performance to be disappointed about.
In the upbeat scenario of today even if these are early days since the World Cup is some 15 months away the feeling centres round why the Indians cannot go one better this time around. Sure there are chinks in the armour symbolized by the unstable middle order batting but this is something that can be sorted out over the next year.
In all other departments – top order batting and pace and spin bowling – the Indians do wear a formidable look particularly in English conditions where they pulled off their first great triumph back in 1983 as ''Kapil’s Devils’’.
The top order is one of the best in the contemporary game and in Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli they have a trio that can cause headaches for the best bowling line-up. The captain is of course in the form of his life and is the leading batsman in limited overs cricket and there is every reason to believe that he will carry on in this vein for the next year or thereabouts.
With three double centuries in ODI cricket to his name Rohit needs no further credentials while Shikhar returns to the scene of his great personal triumph when he was awarded the batsman of the series in the Champions Trophy last year. And the vast experience of MS Dhoni as keeper, middle order bat and elder statesman is bound to come in handy.
The pace bowling - so very important in English conditions - has the variety to bother the best batsmen. Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shammi, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jaydev Unadkat are all new ball bowlers but their approach and methods are different and a combination of pace, swing, accuracy and deceptiveness – not to mention the last named being a left armer - could come up trumps in England.
Spin bowling may play a secondary role in English conditions but in Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav the Indians seem to have found a deadly duo going by their showing in South Africa. Fielding two wrist spinners in limited overs cricket is a highly unorthox tactic laced with more than a touch of risk even if one is a left armer but they have succeeded beyond everyone’s wildest dreams.
In part this is due to the technical limitations of the South African batsmen in playing this mode of bowling but there is every reason to believe that the two will benefit from further experience as well as the success they have enjoyed and emerge even better bowlers.
But the main strength of the ODI squad is its bench strength. There are any number of players good enough to fit in the playing eleven but they have to be kept out because only eleven can play. Everyone - even the established stars – is aware that they have to be on their toes for the competition right down the order is so intense.
The manner in which Chahal and Kuldeep have eased out Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja – till not too long ago considered essential to the ODI squad – purely on the basis of performance is symbolic of this. Indeed it is going to be an embarrassment of riches for the selectors when they sit down and pick the final squad for the 2019 World Cup.