My Thoughts

What is India’s ideal Limited overs X1?

Posted on: July 27, 2022

Before we search for an answer to the question in the title, let’s look at the last two world tournaments India have been part of. After a heartbreaking loss at the 2017 Champions Trophy India made a host of changes in the years leading up to the World Cup in England. Most of the changes were welcomed by the fans and experts alike. The biggest failure of the Kohli-Shastri era in the limited overs format was their lack of patience.

When we look back at the 2019 WC, fans might say that India did very well. You cannot argue with them as the team reached the semi-finals in one of the toughest formats in recent times. India won most of the games in the league stage and were comfortable entrants into the knockouts. While the above was true, the wins in the league format just papered over the cracks which existed in the squad ahead of the tournament. While all of us wanted India to do well and win everyone knew the squad picked wasn’t right.

In the 2018/19 season India were touring Australia where the former managed to win their first Test series down under. Not only did they win the Test series, they also won the ODI series there. From Australia India travelled to New Zealand where they once again won the ODI series 4-1. The success of the above two mentioned wins along with an impressive 5-1 in South Africa a year ago was due to the fact that the Indian top order was in blistering form. The bowling was doing exceptionally well with Kuldeep & Chahal picking up wickets with their spin in the middle overs. Ambati Rayudu was India’s preferred number 4 and even though Virat hardly played the same XI in two consecutive games, the team did look settled.

The series in Australia & New Zealand was just a few months before the World Cup and for some reason every thing went haywire between those series and the WC in England. The squad selection was all over the place and India discarded Rayudu who was with the team for 2 years prior to that and picked Vijay Shankar from nowhere. Rishabh Pant made it to the squad as well despite not doing much in LOIs prior to the tournament. India did enter the tournament banking a lot of the top 3 which showed in their performances through the tournament. Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan were all in great form and they did kind of drag India to wins in the early part of the tournament and helped mask the mess which was the middle order.

India did get a glimpse of what could happen against Afghanistan but again a narrow win in that game made sure they did not learn much from it. The biggest problem for India was that for 2 years after Champions Trophy India failed to settle the middle order. The top order form meant that middle order hardly had to do much and players who were part of the teams over that time were discarded prior to the tournament. Shreyas Iyer who had some good games for India lost his place, so did Rayudu who did well for India averaging 50 over that time. The squad selection was so absurd that India ended up playing 3 genuine wicket keepers in the semi-finals against New Zealand. The injury to Shikhar Dhawan did not help India’s cause but again you don’t go to a tournament without a proper replacement for the openers. KL Rahul who started in the middle order was moved up to open and that left a huge hole in the middle order in the absence of Ambati Rayudu who was playing at that spot for 2 years prior to that tournament.

Vijay Shankar who played the first few games was discarded and India started playing random players in the middle order. When the top order failed in the semi-final the inexperienced middle order struggled to pull India out of the hole they dug themselves into way before the match began. The 2021 WC was similar in the sense, India went in with an unsettled batting order again depending on the top order who this time weren’t in form. The 2022 T20 WC in Australia unfortunately resembles the chaos India had before the 2019 WC. India’s first choice top 3 aren’t in greatest of forms and KL Rahul hasn’t played for a while.

The middle order isn’t any better with a host of names being thrown around but the only solace for India is the return to form of Y Chahal and Hardik Pandya. Majority of Indian first choice players are resting for this series against West Indies and for sure will not travel to Zimbabwe as well. This would leave a bunch of undercooked players turning up for the tournament with many of them not in form leading up to it.

I have lots of respect for Rahul Dravid as a coach but I feel he needs to make sure the mistakes of the last two tournaments aren’t repeated this time as well. Virat Kohli is a sure shot selection for the T20 WC but has no runs behind him leading up to the tournament and he isn’t playing any games right now. Rohit Sharma is shaky form and he isn’t playing much games either. KL Rahul is injured and hasn’t played much this year either. These are worrying signs. India are basically playing the next two series with second string teams with many of them vying for a spot in the squad. Squad selection is crucial and I hope players who have been performing well over the past year are given priority. Shreyas Iyer & Suryakumar Yadav should be in the squad and so should Deepak Hooda who will most probably play the games leading up to the WC.

India also need to make sure they have appropriate backups for each position and do not go in expecting there will be no injrues. Shubman Gill needs to be in the squad as well as an opener. The WC is still 3 months away but with limited games in hand, the selectors along with coach/captain combo need to make sure they pick the right players for the tournament. India have struggled to win major tournaments for a while now and this year will be crucial for Rohit/Rahul combo. They have had a good run in ODI/T20’s but again WC is a completely different challenge to the bilateral series they have been winning. India need to figure out their ideal playing XI which cannot be done with majority of the payers resting for most of the year. WC isn’t the place to experiment and if India want to make a mark in this world cup, they need to make sure they know what their best playing XI will be.

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