When the history of Virat Kohli’s reign as Indian skipper is written down, this changeover from Anil Kumble to Ravi Shastri in the coaching role will be remembered as a poignant marker. There is a lot of cricket to be played in the period that Shastri has been assigned for – until 2019, India will visit Sri Lanka, South Africa, England and Australia, whilst playing a host of home series as well, and all of it will culminate in the 2019 ODI World Cup, also to be played in England).
Needless to say, Shastri has a protracted to-do list on the coach’s desk awaiting him to assume charge.
Overseas tours: Looking back at what Kumble achieved, the Indian team were pretty much unbeaten under his watch. Of course, the additional rider herein is that India only played at home throughout, with the sole exception of the West Indies’ tour. Yes, there will be contests at home over the next two years, but three foreign trips to major cricketing nations present the single-biggest challenge of Shastri’s charge.
Not to mention, Kohli’s captaincy will be under the scanner herein too, for he will be put heavily under the scanner in direct relation to the team’s results graph. It can be seen in how Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan have been brought on board as consultants, with a view to provide the team management with as much help as they can get.
India have never won a series in South Africa. They haven’t won a series in Australia either. Their last series win in England was in 2007, a decade ago. Giving real meaning to the Indian team’s Test No 1 ranking isn’t going to be an easy job.
The 2019 ODI World Cup: The Champions Trophy can be seen as a dry-run for the tournament two years hence, given the anticipated similarity in conditions. Now, the Men in Blue have played more Test cricket than limited-overs’ cricket in the past season, and any ODI series scheduled earlier in 2016-17 were in preparation for the Champions Trophy. In there, thanks to the losses against Sri Lanka in the group stage then against Pakistan in the final, a singular pointer came forward.
India have a quality pace bowling attack at the moment, and it has the potential to do very well overseas, irrespective of formats. With the addition of Ishant Sharma to the mix of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah, not to mention Zaheer's added experience, the timing of their rise as a hunting pack couldn’t have been better. What, however, sours the balance is the lack of penetration from India’s spinners. R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja proved ineffective at best when they were paired together in the Champions Trophy.
The result, as such, was plain to see in the ensuing West Indies’ series. Ashwin and Jadeja didn’t play a single match together on that tour. Kohli learnt his lesson and gave Kuldeep Yadav a long run, with Ashwin and Jadeja rotated as spin options. Will he continue to be this adventurous? Will Shastri support this adventurism, as the team management seek to find the necessary balance in India’s bowling attack?
Another big concern is the No 4 slot. Yuvraj Singh scored 105 runs in four innings in the Champions Trophy. Take away his half-century against Pakistan (where he was dropped on 9*) and that figure drops down to 61. In West Indies, he scored 57 runs in three innings before being rested. Whether Dinesh Karthik’s outings in the last two ODIs thereafter made enough impression or not is moot, for Yuvraj has no further place in India’s ODI plans. It was an experiment keeping in mind the Champions Trophy, and that tournament is over.
Yuvraj cannot possibly reach the 2019 World Cup in prime form, if not top-notch fitness, and India will be stuck with carrying a 37-year-old. The think-tank needs to invest in someone else, whether Karthik, Manish Pandey or a new name even, giving him at least 12 months to establish himself at this spot. The big question is if Shastri identify this as a pressing need, and indeed impress upon Kohli to bring about a change.
The Dhoni question: Embedded within this no 4 debate is also MS Dhoni’s future. With each passing outing, it gets proven further that Dhoni’s powers are on the wane, but with his new approach of taking time at the start only to catch up with the strike-rate later on, he is still a useful contributor in the ODI arena. Not to mention, his glove-work and anticipation of the game is still a class apart.
India can only afford to take one of Yuvraj or Dhoni to the 2019 World Cup, and it is pretty self-evident who that should be. Dropping one of the two also allows the other to move up to the no 4 slot, even if Dhoni is circumspect of doing so himself. Even so, this isn’t about ODI cricket alone. Instead, it is about India’s dwindling fortunes in the shortest format.
On Sunday, India’s selection in the lone T20 against the West Indies was near shambolic and an utter waste of its humongous domestic resources. This country is the home to the best T20 league in the world, and they cannot put out a properly balance eleven in this format. Shastri has work to do in this department, considering that when his term ends in 2019, it will be on the cusp of the 2020 World T20 in Australia.
Much like the ODI format then, a big name doesn’t belong here anymore. The Indian team management needs to back Rishabh Pant as keeper-batsman in the shortest format, giving him a chance to get international exposure and make a bid for a spot in other formats. It does mean the door closing on Dhoni’s T20I career. But who will convince Kohli? Can Shastri make these harsh calls?
Published Date: Jul 13, 2017 08:38 am | Updated Date: Jul 13, 2017 03:08 pm