India are also following a similar path –- aiming to fine-tune their combinations and treating each game as an opportunity to identify their strongest playing eleven for the mega event on home soil.
During their recent 2-1 series win over the West Indies, India paid special attention to contenders for the number four and five positions, and the change in batting order became a topic of debate.
Ishan Kishan‘s impressive performance, scoring three consecutive fifties as an opener, has raised the possibility of him being a backup opening option. Suryakumar Yadav, who is yet to excel in the ODI format, was tried at number three in the series opener but was later moved to number six in the subsequent matches.
Sanju Samson also faced a fluctuating role, not playing in the series opener but batting at number three in the second ODI and number four in the final game. Additionally, Axar Patel’s surprise appearance at number four in the second game left many perplexed.
With Pant, KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer were expected to form the core of the middle-order in ODIs, their injuries have made the team management uncertain about the ideal middle-order combination. The quest to finalize the middle-order batters remains a crucial task for the Indian team ahead of the World Cup.
“I feel that numbers four to five, if you want to keep him (Sanju Samson) as a back-up middle-order batter in terms of your World Cup campaign, then utilize him at that position,” said former India wicketkeeper-batsman Saba Karim during the broadcast on Jio Cinema when rain interrupted proceedings in the second ODI between India and West Indies.
As Rahul and Iyer race against time to recover and rejoin the Indian team, one cannot help but wonder if the team’s think-tank has found the answers they were seeking through the batting experiments in the series against the West Indies.
During the series, Suryakumar Yadav’s performances were modest, scoring 19, 24, and 35, while Sanju Samson impressed with a quickfire fifty in the third ODI.
However, the potential return of Rahul and Iyer poses an interesting scenario. If both regain fitness in time to be part of the Indian team, the question arises about the impact on Ishan’s role as an opener.
He has found success in the West Indies as an opener, but his middle-order performances have been less impressive, averaging only 21.
The team management will face a challenging decision on how to utilize the batting talents effectively and strike the right balance in the lineup if Rahul and Iyer make a timely comeback. They will need to carefully weigh the options and consider Ishan’s recent success as an opener while also acknowledging Rahul and Iyer’s capablilities.
Finding the optimal combination will be crucial for India’s success in the upcoming matches and at the World Cup.
“If KL Rahul comes into the side and if you have him (Ishan) in your squad, will you play him as your opener? You will not, because Shubman Gill and Rohit (Sharma) will open the innings.
“Then if KL is not fit, that is the time when Kishan will come in the eleven, and if that is the case, then why can’t we have him bat at either four or five, whatever it may be. You can’t have him open the innings. Eeven if he gets runs how does it matte, because eventually, he is not going to play as an opener in the World Cup,” wondered Karim.
Another perspective is that the injuries to Pant, Rahul and Iyer have placed the Indian team in a challenging situation.
With players like Samson and Suryakumar, who have not had enough exposure in the format previously, they could find themselves representing India in the World Cup if Iyer or Rahul, or perhaps both, are unable to participate due to their injuries.
This unforeseen scenario has added a layer of uncertainty to the team’s preparations, making the selection process for the mega event all the more critical.
“Here, I feel that the hands are tied because I was fairly critical of the team during the recently concluded three-match series, where they had three different batters in three games on number three and four respectively and you start asking what exactly the team here is trying to do?
“It gives a thought that whether Shreyas Iyer or KL Rahul will be available or is that an insight that these guys may not be available and therefore the team is scrambling for options? The latter seems to be the case right now as you are running out of time and your people haven’t actually recovered from injuries,” said former India opener Aakash Chopra in a virtual interaction.
The deadline for teams to submit their squad of 15 for the World Cup is September 5. For India, this means they will have to finalize their squad after the group-stage matches against Pakistan and Nepal in the Asia Cup.
As the team prepares for the World Cup, there are still some missing pieces in the Indian team jigsaw puzzle. It’s concerning to see that certain issues that contributed to their downfall in the 2019 World Cup have resurfaced with the 2023 World Cup on the horizon.
Addressing these concerns and finding the right combination will be crucial for India’s chances.
“In this case, you can’t blame anyone and it hasn’t happened by design. They are now clutching at straws that whatever we have, we got to make the most of it, with a hope that the main guys will be fit, available and raring to go in a few weeks.”
“I don’t blame team management at this point at all; not one bit because these players, who are also your batters, are injured and with them recovering, it throws your plans into a tizzy,” opined Chopra.
After the heartbreak of the 2019 World Cup semi-final loss, former skipper Virat Kohli lamented that just 45 minutes of bad cricket had led to their elimination from the competition. To avoid a similar fate in the 2023 World Cup, the team must act swiftly in solidifying their main eleven and identifying four reliable back-ups who can perform at their best whenever called upon during the tournament.
Having a clear and well-prepared squad will be crucial in ensuring that the team remains strong and competitive throughout the event.