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4 takeaways for India from Champions Trophy 2017

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India_Cricket_Virat_Kohli_ODI“We leave here with our heads held high because we understand the kind of expectations and pressures we face as a team. Credit to everyone for standing up and showing that resilience and reaching the finals.”

These words were said by Virat Kohli in the press conference after India lost the finals of the Champions Trophy to Pakistan. A passionate and instinctive leader, Kohli led his troops admirably to the finals of the tournament where they were faced with the mercurial Pakistan. Known for their unpredictability, Pakistan stunned their neighbours despite very few vouching for them to do it. India were ruthless against them in the series opener, then surprisingly lost to Sri Lanka in the second match before handing a knockout punch to the Proteas to reach the semi-finals.

A well-oiled unit, India drubbed the hapless Bangladeshis in the semis and marched to the finals to face familiar foes. What unfurled in the finals was in hindsight a long time coming. India had their weaknesses but a strong top three and favourable conditions had hidden them for a long time. Pakistan exposed their vulnerabilities with the bat in a superior bowling display after they had thwarted the Indian bowling attack, believed to be among the best in the tournament.

India will ponder if their team composition, decision to bowl first or missed chances played a role in the finals. But as another bilateral series against the Windies start on Friday, India will look to go back to the drawing board and string together a winning unit to take to the World Cup two years later. Here we analyse four takeaways for India from the Champions Trophy.

Need to groom a young spinner

Ravichandran Ashwin was benched for the first two games in favour of Umesh Yadav but made his way back into the side for the final three games. Ravindra Jadeja was the primary spinner but barely put in performances worthy of one, as he finished the tournament with a bowling average of 62.25. Meanwhile, Ashwin averaged a whopping 167 with the ball.

There is little evidence to prove from the duo’s performances that they are strong forces in limited-overs cricket. Their Test exploits have mostly come at home and the real test will begin when India go to foreign conditions. With every cricketing nation employing wrist spinners to immense success, the time is ripe for India to invest in the likes of Kuldeep Yadav or Yuzvendra Chahal. The former is in the team for the Windies series and should get a few games to prove his talents.

A clustered middle-order

Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan have been the pillars of India's ODI batting in the past few years. At least two among the three have fired in most games helping India’s vulnerabilities in the middle-order to remain under wraps. Amir exposed the top order and the men behind came a cropper. There is no doubting the talent in there but the current line-up has a clumsy feel about it at the fall of early wickets.

Ajinkya Rahane, who has played just one game in 2017, seems a misfit in the ODI squad while Yuvraj Singh's participation in the 2019 event is questionable. The time is ripe to bring in Manish Pandey, who has shown excellent temperament in the IPL and in his few appearances for India. Dhoni could also consider a move to 4, with Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya forming the core of the middle-order. Add in the other Pandya brother and the batting looks solid on paper. The West Indies series will be a good time for India to experiment on their options.

Preserving Bumrah and Pandya

The biggest takeaways for India from the Champions Trophy will be Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah. The Mumbai Indians duo impressed with their ability to take up responsibility in crucial situations. As Bumrah switched to a new ball bowler mid-way through the tournament, Pandya displayed his exemplary all-round skills on numerous occasions.

Bumrah proved that he is more than a one-dimensional bowler with an accurate yorker by choking the Proteas openers with impeccable line and length. Pandya, on the other hand, played a scintillating innings in the final, cut short by a scrappy piece of running between the wickets. The duo needs to be wrapped in cotton wool and managed well to get the best out of them.

Complacency is a dangerous thing

India have been terrific in ICC tournaments since 2010. They have made it to the finals on four of the last seven ICC events and have won two (2011 ODI World Cup and the 2013 Champions Trophy). They were on the cusp of adding another to their collection when Pakistan snapped them out of their dreams.

India have had their issues in big finals but none of that cropped up at The Oval. The decision to chase on a high scoring pitch in the finals of a tournament showed the kind of confidence (read over-confidence) India had in their batsmen. If they had been watching the Pakistani bowlers after the first game, India would have known the leaps and bounds by which they had improved as a unit. Complacency is hardly a sign of champions and India will need to attend to it before the next major event.

 

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