Lack of consistency and role clarity continue over India's preparations for 2023 World Cup

The Indian team management might want to reflect and reboot soon as they try to test their bench strength before WC
Indian wicketkeeper-batsman Sanju Samson in action during the ongoing ODI series against West Indies. (Photo | AP)
Indian wicketkeeper-batsman Sanju Samson in action during the ongoing ODI series against West Indies. (Photo | AP)
CHENNAI: It's that time of the World Cup cycle. The period where every move, tactic and ploy a team makes goes under the radar, where every game is an opportunity to iron out the wrinkles in the combinations and pool of players before going into the global event. When the Rohit Sharma-led Indian side landed in the Caribbean that is what was expected of them as well.
Two games into the three-match series (they have lost the second after winning the first), it seems like they have made no headway at all. If anything, it almost feels like they have turned the clock back to 2019. After the semifinal defeat against New Zealand, the then captain, Virat Kohli had said that it is hard to admit when “45 minutes of bad cricket put us out of the World Cup.”
However, there was more to it. And the most important of all was the mismanagement of the No. 4 slot in the batting order. Since 2017, they had used 12 players in the position before leaving the one (Ambati Rayudu) who batted the most there for the World Cup.
Now, here is a stat for you. Since January 2021, India have used the most number of players  (9) at No. 4 along with the Netherlands and Sri Lanka (among the ten teams in the 2023 World Cup). They also top the list in the ongoing WC year, using six batters in 11 games. And that is not even the worst. None of it has worked. India’s No. 4 average of 16.20 is the lowest among the ten teams. While injuries to KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer — the three who were expected to slot in the middle-order followed by all-rounders Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja — the Indian management sure hasn’t helped themselves in how they have been trying to give opportunities to players.
In the ongoing Windies tour, Ishan Kishan, who is supposedly the backup keeper for Rahul, has been made to open, indicating that he might be the reserve opener. Suryakumar Yadav, struggling to crack the ODI format, batted at No. 3 in the first game before moving to No. 6. Sanju Samson who did not start in the first ODI was made to bat at 3, with Kohli and Sharma resting, when he is not going to get to bat in the position should he make the cut for the WC. Axar Patel was sent in at 4, which actually comes in handy to take on spinners, with a left-right combination in middle-order but no one knows how long that experiment will last as well.
The Rahul Dravid-coached side has left, not just the followers, but also some former cricketers confused. Take the case of Samson, India cricketer Abhinav Mukund, who is an expert on Jio Cinema, feels that Samson should be given a chance in a position where he will get a longer rope. “I don’t understand where the Indian team sees Sanju Samson. I feel he warrants more chances than the chances he has had but if he does, it should be in a position where he is comfortable batting in. Maybe, No. 4 or 5 you can try him out as an option in case Shreyas isn’t fit and that is where I thought after the first wicket went I thought they would still send Suryakumar at 3 and maybe send Samson at No. 4 because Shreyas is the man in question. Now, it feels like they are trying Sanju at 3 or 4 as a top order batter and they want a left-right combination to go in middle overs,” Abhinav said on Jio Cinema during the rain break on Saturday.
Former national selector Saba Karim, who is also an expert on the show, agreed. “I feel that No. 4-5, if you want to keep him (Samson) as a back-up middle-order batter in terms of your World Cup campaign then utilize him at that position, here you are confusing everybody,” he said. “It’s good to see him (Kishan) getting runs up the order but if KL Rahul comes in the side and if you have him (Kishan) in your squad, will you play him as your opener? You will not because Shubman Gill and Rohit open the innings. Then if KL is not fit that is the time when Kishan will come in the XI, and if that is the case then why can’t we have him bat at No. 5 or 4, whatever it may be? You can’t have him open the innings, even if he gets runs how does it matter? Because eventually, he is not going to play as an opener in the World Cup.”
However, despite the defeat or the concerns, coach Dravid doesn’t seem to be worried and said that they are looking at the “bigger picture”. “We need to build some of the players, we need to get some answers for specific positions considering some of the situations we are in,” said Dravid after the second ODI. “We are not too worried about the opinion of people. It’s just that these are the talented boys we have in the country. They have all performed and it’s up to them to take the opportunities.”
This movie isn’t new to Indian cricket. It’s run and re-run several times in the last decade before every ICC tournament. Taking opportunities might not be as easy as said, especially when you are playing out of the role you’d have to. As a former captain himself, Dravid knows it too. And if he and Sharma do not want to be on the sour end of another “45 minutes of bad cricket” in November, they would have to reflect and reboot immediately. 
After all, they just have ten days on the field, at best, their playing XI and back-ups sorted before the big picture gets screened.

Related Stories

No stories found.
The New Indian Express