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World Cup worries for India

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Virat_Kohli_India_World_Cup_Concerns_ODI_CricketWith just 90 days to go for the much-awaited, ODI 2019 Cricket World Cup, the ten nations have begun preparations in full swing. Squads are being finalized, weaknesses are being worked upon and strengths are being carefully analysed by rivals.

India, the most consistent ODI side in the last fourteen months, will walk into the quadrennial event as firm favourites along with hosts England, after decimating their rivals in the given time period.

The Men in Blue have managed to win 71% of their ODI games since 1st January 2018 - the highest percentage of wins accumulated by any team. England follow close behind with a 67% win rate in the same number of ODIs. What will give the Virat Kohli-led squad confidence is that their impressive performances have largely come away from home. The India side travelled to all four SENA countries in this time period, winning 3 out of 4 series, except against England, which they lost 2-1. The only home ODI series they played was against Windies in October 2018.

While their never-say-die-attitude in adverse conditions was praiseworthy, the team does have some areas to polish before the tournament in England gets underway. With one last ODI series against Australia lined up before the IPL and then the World Cup, India will be eager to correct their flaws so that they can enter the tournament with full vigour.

*All stats are from January 1, 2018

The middle-order concerns continue

It is no secret that India is heavily reliant on the top-order, with Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan doing the bulk of the scoring since 2018 started. The trio have scored 4,027 runs and are the leading run-scorers in the format since January 2018. Their average in wins stands at 77.90, which highlights their impact. With twelve hundreds between them, the three have been solid anchors for the side.

However, this success at the top has, more often than not, meant little or no batting time for the middle order, which has proved to be an Achilles Heel when they are called upon to guide India to safety.

An unsettled number 4 - nine cricketers have been tried in that spot in the last fourteen months - has not made matters any easier. Ambati Rayudu, who has played the most number of games at the position (6) looks the best bet to play at 4 for India in the World Cup. But the fact that he has a high score of only 40 at that position signifies the risk that the team carry into the event.

Coach Ravi Shastri hinted at giving the skipper Kohli a go at number 4 in the tournament, but this has received its own backlash, with former cricketers questioning the ploy to move the world’s best batsman from his preferred position. MS Dhoni’s recent struggles with the strike-rate makes him a dodgy player at 4, because he has often been guilty of consuming too many deliveries and slowing down the momentum that the top three had built early on.

Numbers 5 to 7 have not fared much better in said period, averaging a poor 28.05. The fact that even Afghanistan’s middle order has managed a better batting average than India’s emphasises the prevailing issues. As many as 12 players have been tested at numbers 5 to 7 - with only Bangladesh fielding more batters in the middle order than India. The middle order for the Men in Blue have a strike-rate of only 81.47 and a high score of 61 since January 2018. The inability of the finishers to play consistently has plagued the side.

While India’s top three scored with a strike-rate of 94.80, the players from 4 to 7 bat with a strike-rate of 81.75, which is a major weakness that opponents will look to exploit in England.

The absence of the third seamer

After Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja’s woeful run of form, Kohli turned to the spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal and the results were almost instant. Kuldeep is the most effective bowler in the last year, picking up 55 wickets at an average of 19. Chahal stands third on the wicket-taking list in the given interim, taking 44 wickets. The fact that the two have been so successful despite playing on tracks and in conditions that are not naturally suited for spin should give the side massive advantage going into the World Cup. With most sides having only a handful of good players against spin, their impact can be massive in the tournament.

However, the biggest worry in the bowling department remains the third seamer’s slot. While Jasprit Bumrah - who has taken 22 wickets in 13 games - will lead the attack, he will be assisted by either Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Mohammad Shami. While the duo are vastly experienced and have previously done well in their outings in England, their recent inconsistent form will increase the pressure on Bumrah.

Bhuvi has been woeful in his ODI outings of late, managing 26 wickets in 22 games with an economy rate on the higher side. Shami, on the other hand, looked off-colour before he pitched in with good shows in New Zealand, and it will be imperative that either or both of them rise to the occasion.
If they cannot, India will struggle in their seam department with no back-up quick who can bowl at genuine pace consistently whilst being accurate.

Khaleel Ahmed should count his lucky stars for still being in contention, while Shardul Thakur, Siddarth Kaul and Umesh Yadav tend to go for plenty in their quota of overs. Hardik Pandya is an on-and-off bowler - bowling beautifully on days and being as frustrating on others.

Part-time spinner Kedar Jadhav cannot be banked upon to bowl his ten overs match-after-match, so in all probability, a combination of Pandya and Jadhav will be responsible for bowling the fifth bowler’s quota. The fact that none of the batting stars bowl - Rohit and Kohli have been advised not to bowl to avoid injuries - ensures that India will need a solid third seamer, sans which they will struggle on small and flat grounds.

However, despite these hindrances, Team India have managed to outplay their rivals, which one hopes will continue in the World Cup as well.



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