Australia began the five-match ODI series trying to give a shape to their World Cup squad. India appeared to have more or less finalised their line-up, with an odd slot to fill. When they won the first two matches, they left the Australians in distress with question marks over their batting slots as well as spinners.
The next three games left India in disarray, with unanswered questions in the middle-order. Australia left not only with a 3-2 series win, but also happy with problems of plenty before the selectors sit down to choose their squad after one last look at the contenders in the series against Pakistan. They retained the squad that did well in India and there is even talk that Steve Smith and David Warner may not be walking into the side straight away.
From favourites to win the World Cup after victories in Australia and New Zealand, India are now among the four front-runners with South Africa, Australia and Pakistan. With the IPL starting, overseas coaches have started promoting players from their teams for vacant positions, particularly the No 4 slot in batting.
Virat Kohli insists there is no panic in the dressing room and his team is still good enough to win, though with a rider that any team with the momentum can go through to the semifinals. He is also firm that India remains strong favourites. It may not be a good feeling for Kohli that without MS Dhoni around, he looks lost and forlorn in the field, though his batting is unaffected. What should be bothering him is the lack of consistency of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan.
The team missed Dhoni, in the field and also in batting. His presence would have carried the team through in the fifth match. Dhoni won matches with Dinesh Karthik, and twice with Kedar Jadhav. He was also involved in a match-winning partnership with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who almost took India to victory at the Kotla.
It is too much to expect Dhoni’s calmness from Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant or Vijay Shankar, all big hitters. It is also unfair to expect KL Rahul or Ambati Rayudu to bat like Kohli. They can thrive in the company of their captain.
There is a suggestion that Kohli should bat at No 4 so that he can hold the innings together. But there is also an argument that, like Sachin Tendulkar, Kohli should open, as the best batsman of the side so that he gets to bat 50 overs. If Sachin had Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag to bat with, Kohli has two equally good dashing openers to make life easier for him at No 3. If there is any panic in the dressing room, it is over 4, 5 and 6. The middle spot will go to Dhoni and No 6 to Jadhav. Left to Kohli, he would like Rahul at 4 but he may not be averse to seeing an in-form Rayudu there.
Some feel that Ajinkya Rahane with his experience is a safer bet in the key position. Rahane went out of the frame as both Dhoni and Kohli seem to believe that he doesn’t rotate the strike very well. Yet, India’s Test vice-captain is a key T20 player for Rajasthan Royals.
Rahane feels a good IPL can bring him back into reckoning, unmindful that Kohli had said performances there will not count for World Cup selection. Karthik, Pant, Rahul and Rayudu will be thinking likewise, as only two of them can make the grade.
Luckily, the attack has no serious issues.
(The writer is a veteran commentator and views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)