India have had a great start to their Champions trophy campaign. They won both their warm-up games with ease and they would be particularly pleased with the way the pace attack has performed.
The batting, however, was a mixed bag. India came into the tournament with an idea of who they would like to play in the XI, but after the warm-up games things have become little muddled.
Shikhar Dhawan has done enough to book his place in the XI, opening the batting with Rohit Sharma. Virat Kohli showed glimpses of him returning form against New Zealand – even though the innings was really scratchy, he would have appreciated the time spent in the middle. MS Dhoni’s position in the team is not in question as he batted reasonably well in the one game he played and kept wickets brilliantly.
Ajinkya Rahane’s twin failure means that he will not feature in the XI for the first game against Pakistan. But now comes the interesting part: India played Dinesh Karthik in both their warm-up games and Yuvraj did not bat in either. Dinesh Karthik scored a brilliant 94 in the Game 2 against Bangladesh and Virat Kohli hinted in the post-match conversation that he would like to give Karthik a longer run in the team.
The position of Yuvraj Singh remains unclear, however. Is Yuvraj not fully fit? If that is the case, his selection was a blunder by the selection committee. Kedar Jadhav played pretty well for his 30-odd against Bangladesh and so did Hardik Pandya, so it will be interesting to see which way the management will go in terms of the batting.
The selection of the bowling attack isn’t that simple either. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has done extremely well in both the games and for sure will take the new ball. Shami and Yadav both have done well in the chances they received, but I am not sure the team has a place for both of them. It will be a toss-up between Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav. Jasprit Bumrah will for sure play as the third seamer as he has been India’s best bowler in the shorter formats over the past year.
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The one off test between India and Bangladesh saw some interesting selections by the Indian think tank. Not all selections were popular ones but again there were some good signs nevertheless. Shikhar Dhawan’s selection was kind of forced as KL Rahul fell ill ahead of the test match. The 5 bowler strategy is something which Virat Kohli wants to implement consistently over the next couple of years but again he needs to make sure he picks the right 5 bowlers to do the job in tests.
The strategy might even work to his advantage as India does not play outside subcontinent for some time now. The other thing which was evident was that Virat Kohli prefers genuine quick bowlers over swing bowlers. He played both Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron in the same game along with Ishant Sharma. The test itself was marred by rain and we barely got 2 days of test cricket out of 5, so it was difficult to determine if this combination will actually be successful in the long run. Also it will be interesting to see whom Mohammed Shami will replace when he is fit again.
With Kohli and the think tank wanting to go with 5 bowler strategy, it puts lots of emphasis on a strong wicketkeeper batsman. India has Ravi Ashwin coming in at number 7 and the batting to follow after him might not be too reliable. For this strategy to work Wridhiman Saha needs to click as a batsman. We all know that Saha is one of the best wicketkeepers in India but again if he does not score runs with the bat, India might have to look elsewhere. The other selection which needs to be looked at is the second spinner for the subcontinent games.
Ravi Ashwin is India’s primary spin bowler but his partner is something which the Indian think tank is undecided on. Previously Pragyan Ojha was the one for the home tests but after his action was reported, he does not look the same bowler with the corrected action. Harbajan Singh was picked for the Bangladesh test but again he cannot be in India’s long term plans. Bajji looked out of sorts and struggled to match Ashwin with the ball. He did pick up three wickets but again those were gifted by some very daft batting by Bangladesh batsmen. It will be prudent for the Indian think tank to think in terms of blooding a young spinner to bowl alongside Ashwin in the home tests.
There are some suggestions to bring back Amit Mishra which is not a bad idea either but again Mishra has struggled in test matches even at home. It will be interesting if India actually picks some young spinner for the home tests, someone like Shreya Gopal. Shreyas Gopal has a good bowling record in first class cricket and can bat well too. This will help India in the 6-5 combination which they are planning to employ in tests.
India needs to somehow incorporate KL Rahul and Pujara in their test plan. Kohli seems to prefer Rohit Sharma ahead of Pujara in tests but again Pujara is more likely to succeed overseas. The selection of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma seems shortsighted and may not benefit India in the long run. Both Dhawan and Rohit are extremely good at home and on subcontinent pitches but again when it comes to overseas tests Pujara and Rahul are much more capable. It will be interesting to see what combinations Kohli will come up with in the upcoming series with Sri Lanka and South Africa.
India does tour Zimbabwe next for an ODI and T20 series and it will be the right time to introduce some young players in the team. India also needs to give a chance to players like Kedar Jadhav and Robin Uthappa. It will also be interesting if they would experiment with the bowling. Chahal comes to mind as an option in the shorter format. Virat Kohli has stuck with Karn Sharma but again he does not look like a test bowler.
These are exciting times for Indian cricket and we can expect some interesting selections in coming months. Virat Kohli needs to realize that in the longer run the idea is to make Indian cricket team more competitive overseas. Even though horses for courses selection seems good at the moment it will be detrimental to Indian cricket development in the long run. Players like KL Rahul and Pujara need to be in the mix if India needs to develop a team for all conditions. In the coming months we will know what the plan is by the current team management. Even though Dhawan needs to be persisted with as he provides an attacking option at the top of the order, India needs to make sure KL Rahul is somewhere in the mix and is not neglected. The same goes for Pujara. Virat Kohli has lots of tough decisions to make in the coming months. He does have the right attitude as a captain and has an attacking mindset but again he needs to pick the right people for the job for the team to be successful consistently.
Mohit Sharma has been the key to bring the much needed discipline to the Indian pace bowling in the middle overs.
After a crushing win against South Africa in their second game of 2015 world cup, India have strengthened their hold at the top spot of Pool B. India now has won two important games and would be harboring thoughts of finishing at the top of Pool B. India now take on UAE in their next game at Perth and would be hoping for another clinical win against the team from the middle east.
India once again got their basics right against South Africa. Dhoni won the toss and elected to bat once again. The Indian batsmen once again obliged and batted sensibly to post their second 300+ score in the world cup. A chase of over 300 was always going to be difficult at MCG. The bowling and fielding rose to the occasion and delivered a massive 130 runs win, their first win against South Africa in world cups. The South African team on the other hand looked pretty rusty and after a not so impressive win against Zimbabwe this loss should sound as a wakeup call to the pre-tournament favorites.
For India though things seem to be falling into place. All the tinkering Dhoni & co did in the tri-series preceding the world cup seems to be bearing fruit finally. The Indian team seems to have identified their core group. The team has the right combination and baring few changes here and there this should be the team which will play most of the games.
The Indian bowling has finally found it’s mojo in the shorter format with excellent help from the fielders. Shami and Umesh have been great with the new ball and Mohit Sharma has brought the much needed control as the first change. The spinners too have done very well in the middle overs and have been able to take wickets at crucial times in both the games. The Indian bowling still needs to be flexible and I think that the games in Perth might see Binny replacing Ashwin in the X1. Also when India plays in New Zealand we might see Bhuvneshwar Kumar replacing Yadav as he is more suited to those conditions. I think Dhoni trying out all the bowlers in Australia prior to the world cup has very clear idea about the ability of the bowlers. Dhoni himself would be pleasantly surprised with the control the pacers have shown in the first couple of games and would want it to continue for the rest of the tournament.
The batting order seems to have a settled look and most of the top order batters have had a decent knock in the middle. It seems like India are using Rahane and Raina as the floaters in the order and it seems to have worked perfectly for them in the first couple of games. Virat Kohli is playing the anchor role to perfection and we all know what he is capable of with the bat. Shikhar Dhawan has been brilliant with the bat and so have Rahane and Raina. The only concern for India would be Rohit’s form and they would be hoping that he will be back to form in the game against UAE. The other concern for India would be the batting in the final 5 overs. In both games they have batted, India were at least 20-30 runs short of what they could have achieved. Jadeja has struggled with the bat and so has Dhoni. India would probably want to have them bat up the order against UAE to give them much needed time in the middle.
Overall the team looks good and it seems like they would put up a decent attempt at defending their crown. The biggest plus for India has been their fielding and that is something which will be very important for them on the huge grounds of Australia. The Indian team now has some important games coming up and couple more wins would almost secure the top spot for them in the Pool B. A top spot finish would give them a relatively easy quarter final game. There is still a long way to go but the Indian team would feel quietly confident and would not want to drop their intensity no matter which team they play.
The return to form of Shikhar Dhawan will be a huge sigh of relief for the Indian camp.
The one thing that the India-Pakistan game showed us was that if the bowlers bowl with pace and accuracy, you can cause lots of trouble to the batsmen on these wickets. The Indian bowling led by Mohammed Shami bowled with pace and aggression to dismiss the Pakistani batting line up for 224 runs thereby defending their total of 300 at the Adelaide oval last weekend.
The Indian bowlers need to maintain that intensity throughout the tournament if they harbor any thoughts of getting close to defending their title. MS Dhoni though will be extremely pleased with the efforts of the top order batting. The batsmen except for Rohit showed excellent application and developed partnerships to get India to a good total. The one thing he would disappointed is the collapse in the final 5 overs which rendered India 25-30 runs short of what they could have achieved.
Coming back to the Indian bowling, the combination India used against Pakistan might form the crux of the Indian attack for the world cup. Mohammed Shami will expected by Dhoni to lead the pace attack in the absence of Ishant Sharma. Dhoni will be hoping that he does what Zaheer did for India in 2011 world cup. Umesh Yadav, even though wayward, still bowled with lot of pace. He needs to work on his accuracy with the new ball. The other positive for India was the bowling of Mohit Sharma. Mohit bowled at the right pace and kept a good line throughout his spell. He was difficult to get away and was rewarded with two wickets for his efforts.
The spin bowlers also came to party. Ravi Ashwin bowled really well and was clearly the best spinner on view in the first game. Ravi Jadeja looked rusty but his batting and fielding along with his accurate bowling almost makes him a certainty in the X1. The Indian X1 currently looks much more settled than the one which played the tri-series and the warm up games preceding the world cup.
MS Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher will know that for India to progress in the world cup the bowling needs to click. The pace bowlers need to bowl well and keep the pressure on with the new ball. It is very important for India to stick to a combination and back their bowlers to deliver. The other heartening thing in the first game was Dhoni’s captaincy, which was brilliant and he was attacking throughout. The fielding also was fantastic and the Indians for sure looked much more ready for the world cup than the Pakistan team.
The team combination looks settled and I don’t think that there is going to be many changes for the upcoming games. Ravi Ashwin and Stuart Binny might be playing musical chairs for the second all-rounder spot in the X1 based on the conditions. The batsmen coming back to form and the timely runs by Shikhar Dhawan means that India will breathe a sigh of relief as they don’t have to tinker with the batting order at the start of the world cup.
India will now travel to MCG where they will take on South Africa who is one of the favorites like always. South Africa has explosive batting and great bowling attack. They are also one of the best fielding sides in the tournament. India would need to be at the top of their game to compete against a strong South African outfit. India would be hoping that their bowlers keep their good work going. The batting which is looking in good touch needs to fire and keep putting up good totals for the bowlers to defend. It will be an interesting game and India would be hoping to keep their winning form going. A win here against South Africa would be a huge confidence booster for a team who has had a nightmare series down under preceding the world cup.
With the ICC World T20 out of the way, the focus now shifts to test cricket. The Indian team takes on England in a highly anticipated 4 match series. India was blanked 4-0 on their England tour in 2011 which has made this series much more important for the hosts. The English team struggled in UAE against the Pakistani spinners. They struggled to cope up with the spinners in the recently concluded World T20 where Harbhajan and Chawla bowled them out for 80. In the absence of Kevin Pieterson, the English team will be thoroughly tested in unfamiliar conditions and it will be interesting to see how they hold up against the Indian spin combination.
The team selection will be an interesting one. Harbhajan Singh’s comeback might trigger confusion to the newly formed selection committee. Ashwin and Ojha have done extremely well but considering England’s frailties against spin, India might look to add Harbhajan’s experience to the squad. The pace combination will be an interesting one. Ishant Sharma has come back from injury and has been playing domestic cricket. Praveen Kumar was India’s best bowler in the England and West Indies tour last year. So it will be interesting as to whom India would pick as the third seamer in the squad with Zaheer and Umesh being certainties.
The batting combination too will be an interesting one. Rahane and Rohit are already knocking on the doors of test selection with Rohit being the popular choice. Suresh Raina hasn’t done anything of note at number 6 in the test team so his place might be up for grabs. In all probability Sehwag and Gambhir will return to their respective spots followed by Pujara, Tendulkar and Kohli. The other school of thought is to drop Sehwag to number 6 and get Rahane to open with Gambhir. This will be an interesting option considering Sehwag’s comfort in playing in that position by his own admission.
The new selection committee will be under the scanner considering the amount of flak the former committee under Kris Srikkanth received. The challenge for the new committee will be to make the correct choices with some many options at their disposal.There are other players who might be up for consideration too, such as Manoj Tiwary who hasn’t done much wrong in the chances given to him in the Indian team till now. He will be in consideration for the middle order spot too along with Rohit Sharma.
Will India go for Harbhajan Singh as the third spinner or will they go with Rahul Sharma as the third option considering the variety he provides? This will be an interesting selection. With Zaheer and Umesh fit, they are most likely to take the new ball. The third seamer spot is up for grabs with Praveen or Ishant battling out. We will have to wait and watch what combination the selection committee puts out for the first test.
Below is my X1 for the first test:
Ajinkya Rahane, G Gambhir, C Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, V Sehwag, MS Dhoni (Capt. Wkt.), R Ashwin, P Ojha, Z Khan, U Yadav
12th man – Rohit Sharma