In cricket, small things make huge differences, especially at international level. With the evolving standards of the game, one just can’t afford to step a foot wrong in strategizing and executing plans. The 14th edition of the Asia Cup is just around the corner and all the Asian teams are gearing up for the big battle. With India being the defending champions, the expectations are already high from the dominating side. They have been on a roll in this format and inspired confidence on the field. With a well-oiled bowling attack, India have almost filled every hole in their line-up, except one – the unstable middle-order.

India’s middle-order hasn’t been as impactful as their top-order in the recent times. They have relied heavily on their top-order to garner crucial runs and they have seldom disappointed. India lost their latest ODI series against England, which was also their first bilateral series loss since 2016. Their middle-order didn’t have a great run, which was one of the key reasons behind their dismal run. India’s middle-order scored just 198 runs at a modest average of 24.75 in three games while the top-order averaged 58.12 with 465 runs in their basket.

MS Dhoni was the highest run-scorer for India in the middle-order with 79 runs at a steady average of 39.50, but at what cost? His strike-rate of 63.20 is not at all acceptable in contemporary cricket. In comparison, England’s middle-order scored 309 runs at a healthy average of 38.62. Not to forget, Eoin Morgan was the most prolific amongst them, while others had an ordinary run, but still the numbers made all kind of difference.

Virat Kohli has been the man for India and was the most prolific scorer in England from his side. To add to India’s woes, the man in form won’t be available for the big league as he has been rested after a hectic schedule. He has played a good amount of cricket in the recent times, and his exclusion looked on the cards. This makes India’s top-order less impactful and automatically puts pressure on the rest to step up and deliver.

Let’s introspect how India’s middle-order has fared in last 24 months. A total number of 13 players have batted from positions 4 to 7 in last 24 months without any long-term solution.

MS Dhoni is the leading run-scorer in the middle-order for India, but the rate at which he has been getting those runs has been questionable. Widely reckoned for his belligerence, Dhoni’s run in the recent times has been contradictory; instead of scoring quick runs, he has looked sluggish. The second-best average in the list is of Yuvraj Singh, who is not in contention for the national side at the moment. Kedar Jadhav has found some success there, but has been very sloppy off late and his average of 23.30 in last 11 innings corroborates the belief. He has often thrown his wicket away after good starts and had problems with the conversion rate. Hopefully, this problem will be solved in the Asia Cup, which is also believed to be a good breeding ground for the upcoming World Cup.

Talking about the Asia Cup, in the absence of Kohli, KL Rahul will most probably bat at three. He looked in terrible form in England but rediscovered his lost mojo in the final innings, where he scored an emphatic ton. Ambati Rayudu is another strong candidate for the No.3 spot; he failed the YoYo test after being drafted in the squad for the England tour. With massive experience and versatility on his side, there is a high possibility of him taking guard at 3.

Manish Pandey is tipped to bat at 4; he has been in an insane form in the domestic circuit and has scored runs in every outing. Pandey remained unbeaten in his last four List A outings, where he scored a century and two fifties. This could be his tournament and a massive opportunity to cement his spot in the line-up. India have failed to find a prolonged solution to their No.4 problem and a number of players have been tinkered with in the recent times. Can Pandey make this tournament a memorable one? Can he replicate his magical form at the grand stage? Only time will answer these questions.

Dinesh Karthik failed to fire in the only ODI in England, scoring 21. His didn’t enjoy a great run in the Test series either. Kedar Jadhav has proved himself in the past, but a tournament as big as Asia Cup would be a different challenge altogether. He suffered a mistimed injury during the South African tour and followed it up with another one in the IPL. He has been prolific while batting at 6, averaging 58.77 in 19 games. Going by the reputation, one can expect MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya in the playing XI at the start of the tournament at least. Pandya didn’t live up to the expectations in the ODIs against England and the pressure is only mounting on him.

India do have an aura of players to pick from, but it will be interesting to see who all get a nod? The competition is evenly composed. The problems in their middle-order are quite evident and numbers do not lie. With World Cup being just few months away, this tournament could be an ideal platform for the side to do the repair work and stabilize the middle-order.