Have India taken things too far experimenting in limited-overs cricket?
They are the strongest team in world cricket with England, but with under a year to go for the World Cup, not everyone is convinced the team is benefitting from constantly shuffling the players. Experts feel the crushing defeat in the ODI series should be an eye-opener.
While most of the team is set, there are key issues that need to be sorted before the blue riband event in England.
The middle-order is the most glaring. The England tour was supposed to provide clarity about the critical No 4 slot, but confusion has mounted instead. It’s not due to lack of options. In pursuit of the right man, there has been so much chopping and changing all those tried in the middle-order have lost confidence. The batsmen have been left complaining they are not being given a decent run to settle down.
A prime example came in the third one-dayer when KL Rahul was surprisingly dropped in favour of Dinesh Karthik. Rahul was being tried at No 4 in this series. He failed in one innings and was gone.
Rahul was in the form of his life in IPL and started the tour with a scintillating hundred in the first T20 against England. But at the end of the series, he doesn’t know where he stands.
Since the 2015 World Cup, India have used as many as 10 players at No 4. Among others tried at No 4 and 5 in recent times are Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Yuvraj Singh and Hardik Pandya. Ambati Rayudu was in the original squad and had he not flunked the Yo-Yo test, he too might have been tried.
In T20s, skipper Virat Kohli had dropped himself to No 4 to solve the issue in that format. But top-order is for top batsmen and Rahul and Rahane stand out for their solid technique and all-round game.
Former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar, touring Manchester with his academy, blasted the selection policy.
“No 3 and 4 is the most crucial pair. It speaks poorly of the selectors that we don’t have a settled No 4. How can you unsettle batsmen of the calibre of Rahul and Rahane?” asked Vengsarkar as he watched the U-19 boys’ of his academy play at St Anns, near Blackpool.
At the start of the series, Kohli had said he was working to get a settled middle-order while assistant coach Sanjay Bangar said the situation was fluid and more players will be tried.
Vengsarkar, a former chairman of selectors, wasn’t impressed.
“If Ajinkya cannot fit in the ODI squad then there is something more to it than meets the eye,” said the former No 4 who starred in one of India’s memorable triumphs, in the 1985 World Championship of Cricket.
“What’s going on? If you are going to play musical chairs then the confidence of the top players will take a beating. It doesn’t augur well for the future. He (Rahul) has been unsettled which is not good for a quality batsman.
“How can you drop Rahane in the next match India is playing (ODIs) after captaining the (Test) team against Afghanistan? How can you not have confidence in your top players of the calibre of Rahane, a proven player in English conditions?”
Former India skipper Sourav Ganguly had also questioned the selection policy.
One good thing is there’s lot of time to zero in on what works best as India are likely to play 25-27 games before the World Cup.