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No risk, no reward


India_cricket_risk_talentThat West Indies is a weakening side is not news, and this series was a perfect opportunity for India to recover from their loss in the Champions Trophy against another side that was initially perceived as a shadow of its former self. India won the series 3-1 and lost the sole T20, but despite the mammoth margins of victory, were the victories convincing enough?

Eyebrows are now raised because the Windies did manage to win an ODI and a T20, which is where India’s problem with risks and experimentation resurfaced. Apart from the need to play cricket against every side, this series had given India an opportunity to test their bench strength, give a chance to those lower down the pecking order to show a glimpse of what they could do in testing conditions, or merely the chance for all the players in the squad to sharpen their swords. 

With the next World Cup just two years away, India should use the remaining time perfecting their ODI side. The key to this is building a core team. Some days back, Rahul Dravid had pointed out that only one of Yuvraj Singh or MS Dhoni could play in the squad. This is the crux of the matter. 

One vintage Yuvi show in 7 innings (his fifty in the Champions Trophy group stage against Pakistan) is not qualification enough to be in the squad, and Virat Kohli must realize that soon. MS Dhoni gets some leverage due to the various qualities he brings to the table: immaculate wicket-keeping; the ability to build an innings or to “finish” it; guiding youngsters in general and Kohli in particular, who is still getting used to limited overs captaincy; and his fitness in general.

Two introductions to the side were most awaited- Rishabh Pant and Kuldeep Yadav. But what does their future hold?

Now that it is clear that there are many candidates for the role of opener, with Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma becoming the first preference and Ajinkya Rahane as back up. Rishabh Pant should have been considered as a potential candidate to fill the No. 4 spot. He still hasn’t played an ODI match. The gamble should have been made by the Indian think tank, because if Pant is being looked upon as a future prospect for the side, now is the time to start blooding him.

Sure, Kuldeep Yadav got his debut and proved his worth by picking 9 wickets in 5 matches. Kohli, however, still seemed hesitant. He brought Kuldeep into the attack quite late in 2 of the first three matches. And even then, there still looms a big dark cloud about the possibility of Ashwin-Kuldeep as the spin twins from now on, because it’s not clear if the team has gotten over the past glory of Jadeja-Ashwin. 

Most importantly, after the selection from a huge pool of talent in the India A squads for the upcoming tri-nation series against Australia A and South Africa A, it was clear that the selectors are looking at candidates who could provide something for India in the future. Are the selectors and the Indian team not on the same page? They are looking for experimentation, risks and young blood, while the Indian team is following the traditional way of waiting for players to get out of form before making a call on their future.

Persisting with the same squad for the initial three matches, including the one which was washed out, was an instance of how it appears like they feel the need to go in with the same team to make sure a series defeat is inevitable. However, the opponent is in a transition phase and as ruthless as it may sound, the Indian team banked upon the inexperience and the Windies’ poor run in the last few series. Kohli and Co. only welcomed changes to the squad in the third ODI, one which was forced because of Yuvraj’s injury, the other two didn’t really matter in the end.

Another major instance that shows that India are extremely cautious is the way they bat in the middle overs. Why haven’t we seen Hardik Pandya or Kedar Jadhav bat higher up when the team is in the driver’s seat? Or are they only going to be confined to the role of slogging, hard-hitting finishers? We saw what Hardik Pandya is capable of in the Champions Trophy finals, but would his carnage provide the tiniest bit of hope if it was not a spinner that day? It’s time we prepare him for the test of world-class fast bowlers as well.

Similarly, Ajinkya Rahane provides a perfect foil when the wickets are down and we could really use his help even in the middle order, but his style of play raises questions. The innings starts slow and steady, and we wait for an acceleration. He even reaches 70-80 odd runs but the acceleration never really comes. This leads to criticism on intent of the player and the team in general because the run-rate hardly climbs. 

MS Dhoni faced something similar when he scored his slowest fifty in the 4th ODI. It was slow as a snail, and perhaps what the situation demanded, but it is also important to note that he is not the same batsman that he used to be, who could afford to take the game to the last over, especially when there is no support on the other end. 

The opposition was different, the occasion was different but there was a similarity in the huge defeat against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy and the 11-run defeat against the Windies. It was the fact that the team does not take risks. To think of what went wrong in hindsight is easy, but the Indian team ought to do what is difficult- think of the future.


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