India's top three of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli were one of the most feared batting line-up coming into the World Cup. And for good reason. All three once they get going, can make a dent to any bowling lineup. All three bring different aspects to the batting - Dhawan and Rohit can go all guns blazing while Kohli can go about his business without taking any undue risks. But, for a side that was considered as a strong candidate to lift the World Cup, it is a worrisome aspect that below your top 3 batsmen, no one can take things along.
With India exiting the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 in the semi-finals at New Zealand's hands, the concern over the middle order came to light once again. Only this time, the result sees them packing their bags and heading to West Indies for the next assignment; as against their desired outcome of playing at Lord's on Sunday. Ravindra Jadeja and MS Dhoni did prolong the outcome, did take the team close, but it was a tough cause all the same.
After Rohit (648 runs) and Kohli (443 runs), KL Rahul is the third India batsman with most runs in the tournament (361 runs), MS Dhoni (273 runs) and Hardik Pandya (226 runs) to round off the top-five. The disconcerting fact is that the depth is absent: Rishabh Pant (116 runs), Kedar Jadhav (80 runs) and Vijay Shankar (58 runs).
In the 90s, it was almost a habit to turn the television off when Sachin Tendulkar would get out in a chase. There was little support from the middle order to bat things off, to ride the pressure and to get the job done. The same is the situation now. Once you lose Dhawan (already injured and out of the tournament), Rohit and Kohli, the odds of either scoring big or chasing down gets significantly lower.
With Kohli, KL Rahul and Rohit falling cheaply — a first for a top-three to be dismissed for one run each — India were 5/3 and the win probability went from 70 percent in India's favour to 27 percent.
That is when the onus shifted to the rest to stand up, to the New Zealand bowling attack and make themselves count with required rate climbing and the pressure with it. And the middle order choked, again. Dinesh Karthik fell to a blinder by Jimmy Neesham, Rishabh Pant was going along nicely until he went after a delivery outside off and found Colin de Grandhomme in the deep and Hardik Pandya repeated what Pant did. Pandya also went for a delivery outside off by Mitchell Santner and found the fielder. "Our shot selection could have been better," said Kohli in the post-match interaction and he was absolutely spot on. It holds true for Pant, KL Rahul, Pandya and for Kohli as well.
From 92/6 in the 31st over and chasing 240 runs, Jadeja and Dhoni did what the others couldn't or didn't try well enough — attack. With Jadeja dancing down the pitch to Neesham in the 33rd over, he made his intentions clear. The duo took things deep, took things to the 48th over with India's score reading 208/7. If Pant or Pandya had gone beyond 32 runs, the task may have been easier. If they had accelerated, maybe the required rate would have been better off.
With the World Cup out of the way for India, the challenge will be to build for the future. Make some changes, switch things around and it needs to start with the middle order.