New Delhi: Plenty has been written about India’s series loss to England, both on mainstream and social media. From the issue of not having a stable number 4, to Kuldeep Yadav being “found out”, to Dhoni’s presence in the squad. A lot has been said, more will be surely, but a lot remains unsaid and unexplored.
My take – the 1-2 series loss will have absolutely no bearing on the 2019 World Cup.
For starters, a three-game series played in mid to late July will hold little similarity to a World Cup being played between early June through to mid-July. Seasonally, England is different. Weather conditions and as a direct result pitch conditions in early June and late July are like chalk and cheese, if recent history is anything to go by.
Then there is the small matter of a World Cup with its own unique pressures. Teams that may look like a million dollars in the lead up may not necessarily adjust to the hurly burly of the World Cup campaign.
Also consider India’s track record in ICC tournaments. Remember, this is a team that failed to reach the final in the triangular that preceded the 2015 World Cup but then had an unbeaten run till the semifinals. This after spending close to 4 months in the lead up in Australia.
Let’s delve a bit deeper. This is India’s schedule for the World Cup:
5 June South Africa v India (Southampton)
9 June Australia v India (The Oval)
13 June New Zealand v India (Trent Bridge)
16 June Pakistan v India (Old Trafford)
22 June Afghanistan v India (Southampton)
27 June West Indies v India (Old Trafford)
30 June England v India (Edgbaston)
2 July Bangladesh v India (Edgbaston)
6 July Sri Lanka v India (Headingley)
Lords, the scene of the first ODI defeat to England, does not even feature in this itinerary, so is not a factor till the finals. India won at Trent Bridge on a canter and lost by as much at Headingley. One can take an extreme view or be more pragmatic about player selection and form and form more informed opinions.
Then there is the strength of schedule – based upon current ICC rankings, India play (in order) – #3, #6, #4, #5, #10, #9, #1, #7 and #8.
Win 6 of the 9, and the semifinals beckons. Win 7, and the semifinals is a certainty. Making allowance for rain and other sundry factors, even a 50% winning record gives the outside chance of a semifinals. And from that point onwards, it is a lottery.
Also consider, the lead-up to the World Cup, where India plays around 25 odd games, and this is not considering the warm-up matches ahead of the World Cup proper.
Asia Cup – 5 (potentially 6)
Vs West Indies – 5
Vs Australia – 3
Vs New Zealand – 5
Vs Australia – 5
Vs Zimbabwe – 3
Ideally, the core of the team should be ready by the time India complete the tour of Australia. That gives the team management and the selectors another 13-14 games to tinker around with team selection and arrive at a settled batting order.
Starting with the tour of New Zealand, the squad of 15 (16,17?) should pretty much pick itself. That gives the team an extended run of 13-15 ODIs to sort itself out, with batting and bowling slots penned down, and the substitutes aware of their role in the scheme of things.
For me, MS Dhoni is an integral part of India’s World Cup campaign. Between his experience of playing over 300 ODIs, the skill behind the stumps, and the tactical acumen he brings to the side, there is no argument about his place in the side. Barring injury or retirement, his selection should be a no brainer.
India has been experimenting with batsmen who double up as bits and pieces bowlers, giving Virat Kohli some latitude with his bowling changes. India have tried Kedar Jadhav, Suresh Raina, and at times, Yuvraj Singh in that role. While this works more often than not in India, England in June may be a different kettle of fish. If it is a spinning option that needs to be tried out, India could do well to punt on Ashwin in that role. Consider a batting lineup that reads:
In that order, is not the worst team India put out in the park. Plus, there are a multitude of options for both batting as well as bowling, form withstanding.
A team that won nine ODI series on the trot does not become bad overnight after losing one series. And losing to the #1 ODI side in their backyard is not the end of the world. Disappointing yes, but that’s only because this Indian team has raised the level of expectation that high.
It will be a brave man (or a fool) who discounts the #2 ODI side in the world from being a contender, and a strong one at that, for the 2019 World Cup.
(The author grew up obsessing about cricket and hasn’t overcome that obsession in his middle age. He fancies himself as an armchair critic and tweets @HomerOpines)