During India’s recent limited-overs tour of the West Indies, played in the wake of the Champions Trophy in England, they were criticised by some for not giving enough opportunity to some younger players and testing out the depth of their squad. Against Sri Lanka on Thursday, the Indian team management ensured they didn’t make the same mistake again.
With the series already wrapped up and an opponent very much on the ropes it was the perfect opportunity for India to shuffle their playing XI and assign different roles to some players. Manish Pandey, who has featured in the India blue in recent times, exciting young spinner Kuldeep Yadav and untried fast bowler Shardul Thakur were all given a chance to show their wares in the fourth ODI in Colombo. The trio replaced Kedar Jadhav, Yuzvendra Chahal and Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the side and made the most of the chance they were given.
Sri Lanka’s struggles in this series have been well documented and India have been dominant on this tour, but the Indian think tank are already looking ahead to the 2019 World Cup in England and need to know what every member of the squad can offer when called upon. That India were able to come away with another dominant win, this time by 168 runs despite trying new things, will boost the confidence of the players as well as the team management and selectors.
Through their impressive performances Pandey, Kuldeep and Thakur showed India does have depth across the board in ODI cricket and through further testing and opportunities they should be able to build a formidable squad with a look ahead to the World Cup. Finding the best combination from a strong pool of players is the kind of headache selectors will welcome.
Pandey stepped back into the ODI fold after missing the Champions Trophy through injury and the elegant right hander picked up right where he had left off scoring a calm half century to help guide the team to 375/5 after a slight middle-order wobble. With only 13 ODIs to his name, and at the age of just 27, Pandey is still new to the game at the top level but he bats with a calmness that belies his experience and his second ODI fifty, to go along with one century, came in typical unhurried fashion with an impressive strike rate of 119.04.
Kuldeep’s stocks continue to grow in both Test and ODI cricket and after sitting out the first three matches of the series, even after his strong performances in the West Indies, he returned to the side in place of leg-spinner Chahal. The left-armer once again hinted at his enormous potential and showed off his vast array of skills, all while displaying great control over line and length — something that bodes well for the future.
Sri Lanka required well over seven runs an over to win the match, and were only able to score at just under five an over on their way to being bowled out for 207. Kuldeep conceded just 31 runs off 8.4 overs, going at 3.57 runs an over and really tightening the screws on an already under pressure home batting unit. He was eventually rewarded for his economic and probing spell with the tail-end wickets of Vishwa Fernando and Lasith Malinga.
Thakur was entrusted with the new ball and the first over on his ODI debut and while there was more than a hint of fortune in his maiden wicket his overall display showed India is developing good depth amongst their fast bowling ranks. Thakur is another product of the BCCI’s focus on ‘A’ team tours and has come up through the system to represent his country. The 25-year-old Mumbai fast bowler displayed good traits during his seven overs taking 1/26. There was a combination of swing and lively pace, which with more experience at the international level could make Thakur a handful for opposition batsmen. The debutant quick charged in and hit the pitch hard and never seemed daunted or phased by the occasion of his first match for his country.
With the likes of experienced duo Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina very much on the outside, India have been searching for adequate middle-order replacements, batsmen who are able to build on the dominance of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli or carry out a rescue mission if the top order fails. Jadhav’s attacking instincts have proved useful down the order but he still needs to cement himself in the middle order. Pandey’s promising start to his career could help India fill that middle-order void in the company of Jadhav and KL Rahul.
The emergence of Kuldeep, Axar Patel and Chahal, all of whom have shown they are more than capable at the top level, should help end India’s reliance on Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja and perhaps allow the experienced duo to focus solely on Test cricket.
If Thakur can build on his promising debut it will only benefit India as they look to continue building their pool of fast bowlers, a group that will be key to them being successful at the World Cup in English conditions. With Jasprit Bumrah the established death bowler Thakur could help add some new ball firepower alongside the likes of Bhuvneshwar, Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav going forward.
There is one more dead rubber left for India to continue trying out new combinations, followed by a limited-overs battle with arch-rivals Australia. These series’ provide the perfect platform to keep testing out the national side’s bench strength and depth, which at this stage is looking quite healthy.
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