Shikhar Dhawan was initially speculated to miss two matches at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 - versus New Zealand and Pakistan. Host broadcaster Star Sports said it could be three matches. Then BCCI said he was out of matches in June (New Zealand, Pakistan, Afghanistan and West Indies). On Wednesday it was confirmed that Dhawan would be unable to shake off his injury before the middle of July - thus ruling him out of the World Cup entirely.
With Rishabh Pant coming in, and not Ambati Rayudu (who, now it seems, has missed the bus entirely), it is worth speculating whether India have adequately fixed the much-debated and much-discussed No 4 issue.
Against Pakistan, KL Rahul moved up to the opening slot and discounting the slow knock, he looked solid enough to stitch a 136-run opening wicket stand before throwing his wicket away. KL Rahul opening the innings alongside Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya took the No 4 role with 11 overs to be bowled as Vijay Shankar moved lower down the order.
In fact, India haven’t settled down on the batting after the trio of Dhawan, Rohit and Virat Kohli. KL Rahul batted at No 4 against South Africa, Pandya against Australia and Pandya again versus Pakistan.
It may just be down to the time in the game as well. India were 54/2 after 15.3 overs against South Africa when KL Rahul walked out to bat. Against Australia, 37 overs were up before India were two down and needed Pandya to take the guard. Most recently, against Pakistan, it was the 39th over when the Baroda all-rounder got the opportunity to walk down the dressing room.
If India are once again to go two down early in a contest, what would be the strategy? A few scenarios could still occur:
- India stick to the current plan of KL Rahul at the top, Vijay in the middle. KL Rahul is a steady head who goes about calmly in his approach and given India’s plan to start slowly, see out the new ball, and then go on the attack, it makes sense to stick with him. Vijay, an all-rounder, also brings in the aspect of his seam bowling. Just as Bhuvneshwar Kumar limped off at Old Trafford, Vijay ran in to finish the over and got the better of Imam-ul-Haq. World Cup debut, first ball, and a wicket, not bad a start. Above all, why fix what’s not broken (yet)? (Even though Indian team are notorious for making changes to the playing XI)
- If KL Rahul fails to fire, then what? In such a case, India could throw in Pant at the top, alongside Rohit. It restores the left-right combination that the team is missing now in Dhawan’s absence. And KL Rahul drops down to his preferred No 4 position with Vijay making way.
- If Vijay fails to deliver, does Pant come in? And how long can the team wait for the Tamil Nadu all-rounder to get his groove on? Both Vijay and Pant are newbies in the world of ODI cricket. Shankar made his 50-over debut just four months ago and had played single-digit matches before finding his name in the playing XI sheet for Pakistan. Pant, on the other hand, has played even fewer. Is it a safe bet for the team management to put their faith in players who have played just 15 ODIs between them. But Pant’s inclusion ahead of Vijay does provide the left-handed option - a target not achieved otherwise.
- Another alternative for Vijay may just be the experienced Dinesh Karthik. Karthik had made it to the squad primarily on superior wicket-keeping skills ahead of Pant. However, bear in mind, Karthik hasn’t played a 50-over match since the New Zealand series back in January.
- Lastly, team management may keep altering the lineup according to the opposition. India’s next big challenge in the league stage is England, (30 June) and given their propensity to score big, it may be ideal to go for Pant and his big hitting to power the Men in Blue. Another thought could be to push MS Dhoni higher up in an attempt at a big total.
Which way will the Indian side head will become clear in the subsequent three matches and possibly reveal the strategy for the remainder of the tournament.