The appetizers have whetted the appetite, and it’s now time for the main course.
What a luxurious summer this is for those who live on cricket – where the biggest T20 competition in the world served merely as a starter!
IPL 2019 gave everything that makes the Indian Premier League an encapsulating affair year-on-year, but the stage is now set for the cricket’s quadrennial celebration.
The ICC World Cup 2019 kicks off in England come the end of May, where India will be hoping to win a third world crown to add to their titles from 1983 and 2011. But how did India’s World Cup-bound stars perform in their domestic challenge? Who among the 15 are carrying potentially World Cup-winning form to England? Who would be causing some concern to the team management?
Here’s an IPL report card of India’s 15-member World Cup squad.
Virat Kohli: 6/10
464 runs in 14 innings @ 33.14; five wins and eight losses out of 14
India’s captain has had a tough last few years leading his IPL franchise, Royal Challengers Bangalore, and that didn’t change too much this summer as RCB endured another largely lacklustre campaign, finishing bottom of the table for the second time in three years.
A few question marks were raised over Kohli’s captaincy and man-management; debatable selection calls and perturbing choices of death overs bowlers marred yet another IPL season.
With the bat, such is the golden standard created by Kohli that even a season with 450 runs wears the look of an under-colour campaign. The world’s top-ranked Test and ODI batsman took full toll of Kolkata Knight Riders – the season’s worst-performing bowling team – but Kohli himself will be first to admit he wasn’t in his zone for the remainder of the journey.
Take away his 84 and 100 against KKR, and Kohli managed just one half century in 12 innings, scoring 280 runs at an average of 23 and a strike rate below 130.
Rohit Sharma: 7.5/10
405 runs in 15 innings @ 28.92; 10 wins and five losses out of 15
Where the Indian skipper saw his leadership questioned, India’s limited overs vice-captain only furthered his mighty impressive captaincy credentials by becoming the first man to oversee four IPL title-winning campaigns.
Rohit Sharma’s tactical acumen came to the fore yet again in IPL 2019, reaching its crescendo with the final act of the season, when he didn’t shy away from handing Lasith Malinga the final over of the summit clash despite the Sri Lankan having been taken to the cleaners minutes earlier.
The negating factor, though, was his form in the primary suit he holds for the Indian team. Only twice did Sharma surpass 50 in a season where he registered his fourth-lowest average in 12 years of the IPL. There wasn’t a single big, game-changing knock that one has become so accustomed to whenever he dons the India blue.
That shouldn’t necessarily facilitate any worries in the camp – Rohit has averaged below 30 in each of the last three editions of the IPL, but he averages nearly 64 in ODIs in the same time period.
Shikhar Dhawan: 8.5/10
521 runs in 16 innings @ 34.73
Shikhar Dhawan’s early-season form may have raised a few anxious thoughts among the Indian team management – but he bounced back with a superlative back-half of the season to ensure India will head into the World Cup with their prime opening combination safely keeping their spot.
The left-hander, returning to his hometown and first IPL team, was averaging 25 in the first six games, at a low scoring rate of 116 which was openly criticized by Capitals coach Ricky Ponting. The hair-dryer treatment clearly worked; in 10 subsequent matches, Dhawan averaged 41 and struck at 145 to play a pivotal role in Delhi’s best IPL campaign.
The return to form couldn’t have been more timely – Dhawan’s ODI batting average since the end of the Asia Cup in September 2018 has been well short of his career mark (31 compared to 44), but he’s among the runs going into his more favoured countries (average in England: 65.06) and most favoured stage (average at ICC events: 65.47).
KL Rahul: 8.5/10
593 runs in 14 innings @ 53.90
If Dhawan hadn’t come good, India could well have considered putting KL Rahul at the top of the order, because the Kings XI Punjab opener enjoyed a second successive season of rampant run-scoring.
Rahul showcased an eye for timing his peaks – in the six matches immediately ahead of India’s World Cup squad announcement on 15 April, he scored 330 runs at an average of 110, well ahead of his numbers for the rest of the tournament.
While he’s largely in the squad as a back-up opener, his anchoring abilities may see him slot in at three/four if that recurring problem shows up for India in England.
Kedar Jadhav: 3.5/10
162 runs in 12 innings @ 18.00
Possibly the biggest problem area among the batting options in the squad. It was bad enough that the runs just weren’t coming for Jadhav this season, but it became worse when he picked up a shoulder injury that ruled him out of the playoffs.
Given Jadhav’s history with fitness issues, this could be a deal-breaker – but the team management has expressed confidence in a return to fitness ahead of the flight to England next week.
Injury aside, the 34-year-old’s batting was utterly uninspiring. Only once did Jadhav make more than 30, and that too was a 54-ball 58 in a comprehensive defeat at Mumbai. For someone playing the role of a finisher, a strike rate of 95.85, too, was quite unflattering.
MS Dhoni: 9/10
416 runs in 12 innings @ 83.20; 16 dismissals
If you were part of that segment of the Indian cricket community that was voicing its displeasure over MS Dhoni’s slot in the Indian XI, or even XV, for the World Cup, aren’t you humbled right now?
That he remained the best bet with the ‘keeping gloves, even at nearly-38, was well established to even his doubters. But any and all notions of being finished as a finisher were quashed spectacularly.
Dhoni topped 30 seven times in 12 innings, and consistently scored at a fast clip at the death. Twice, he improved on his highest T20 score – the second of which saw him almost pull off the impossible in a miraculous finish in Bengaluru.
Once ‘Captain Cool’, Dhoni still remains integral to the leadership structure in the Indian setup, and on that count too, his deft handling of his ageing squad proved he remains among the sharpest minds in the business.
Dinesh Karthik: 4/10
253 runs in 13 innings @ 13.62; 7 dismissals
Potentially the happiest/luckiest man for the timing of the Indian World Cup squad announcement. Remove a late season surge, which was a little too late for his team anyway, and Karthik’s numbers do not point to big stage readiness.
The KKR skipper crawled his way to 117 runs in the first 10 matches he played, at an average of 16.71 and a strike rate below 120. Having hit 30 or more every second innings in IPL 2018, Karthik only twice crossed 30 (or 50) in 13 essays this summer.
Given Rishabh Pant’s far better returns (and the affinity many have towards the younger option), the seasoned ‘keeper-batsman can count himself a little fortunate that the selectors were keen on experience.
Vijay Shankar: 4.5/10
244 runs in 14 innings @ 20.23; 1 wicket, economy 8.75
Shankar is among the biggest worries for the Indian camp if they are taking IPL form seriously. After smashing 75 runs off 39 balls in the first two games of the campaign, Shankar’s season frittered away unexpectedly.
The all-rounder dawdled along at a strike rate of 109.74 from there on, never managing a 30+ score, and was also only handed eight overs through the season that yielded a solitary wicket.
Having been talked up as one of the number four candidates by the selectors, Shankar got to play the finisher’s role for the vast majority of IPL 2019 with the Sunrisers, but he cut a pale figure of what the team management is expecting of him.
A change in format, which affords more time to get the eye in, one would hope, should get things moving again for the 28-year-old.
Hardik Pandya: 9/10
402 runs in 16 innings, S/R 191.42; 14 wickets, economy 9.17
Only his title-winning teammate from the Mumbai Indians Jasprit Bumrah could claim to have had a better season than Hardik Pandya among India’s 15 World Cup-bound cricketers – and that, too, would make for a rather close contest.
In a season where Andre Russell continuously made a mockery of big-hitting standards, India’s primary finisher gave more than a good account of himself by nearly matching up to Dre Russ’ humanly impossible striking mark.
Not only did Pandya do his hitting at nearly 200, he scored over 400 runs despite facing more than 20 balls just once all season. It was the kind of impetus-providing smashing that India have been desperate to have at the death in ODI cricket.
He was a much-improved figure with the ball in hand as well; the high economy is down to a lot of overs at the death, where he held his own quite well given that half his games were at the high-scoring Wankhede.
Ravindra Jadeja: 8/10
106 runs in 9 innings, S/R 120.45; 15 wickets, economy 6.35
Jadeja’s numbers present a bit of a curious case, and need to be looked at with a grain of salt. Among all bowlers to bowl more than 10 overs this IPL, his economy rate was second only to Rashid Khan; but will any pitch anywhere in England provide anything close to assistance for his finger-spin the way Chepauk did? It’s unlikely.
Still, you can only play with what you have, and Jadeja’s control with the ball, and his general sense of frugality, makes him a solid fall-back in case the wrist-spinners get it wrong – and from a team balance point of view, his being in form provides multiple options to the camp.
Yuzvendra Chahal: 7.5/10
18 wickets in 14 matches, economy 7.82
Another season of the IPL went by with Chahal keeping himself among the leading wicket-takers, and with half his matches coming at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, an economy rate under eight only furthers his reputation.
But it was a season of two contrasting parts for the leggie; he was stupendous in the first eight games, taking 13 wickets at just seven runs an over, but managed only five from his last six appearances while leaking 9.29 an over.
The wickets column may be of more value from the World Cup perspective – the impact and effectiveness of wrist-spin, especially vis-à-vis finger-spin, in England is well known, and a wicket-happy Chahal is imperative for Kohli and Co.
Kuldeep Yadav: 3/10
4 wickets in 9 matches, economy 8.66
India’s biggest concern with the ball. As Kuldeep Yadav was being taken to the cleaners in IPL 2019, Kohli and Ravi Shastri’s worst fears may have been realised – that their trump card, perhaps, is starting to be read by opposition batsmen.
Four wickets in nine matches, with four spells in excess of nine per over, is not what is expected of India’s prime wicket-taking option in limited overs cricket from the past 18 months. Such was the chinaman bowler’s plight, he didn’t play a game beyond 20 April.
A modicum of defense for Kuldeep is that the Eden Gardens was nothing like its earlier self, and offered absolutely no assistance to spin – but that would be true of most wickets during the English summer too.
Jasprit Bumrah: 9.5/10
19 wickets in 16 matches, economy 6.63
While India’s leading limited overs spinner saw his stock dip this past IPL, India’s premier fast bowler only became an even bluer-chip. Words might not be ample enough praise for Bumrah, so let his numbers do the talking.
His economy of 6.63 was nearly 1.5 runs lesser to Mumbai Indians’ overall economy rate – and this despite bowling a majority of his overs at the death. That economy rate was also the best for any pacer to have delivered more than 10 overs this season. In the final, with the tournament on the line, he conceded 14 runs off four overs, and took two wickets.
And then there was his persona, his demeanour. Having seen a catch dropped and four needless byes given of his bowling during the crunch finish, Bumrah didn’t flay his arms and throw a hissy fit like you’ve come to expect from top-profile stars; instead, he smiled, and went and put an arm around Quinton de Kock’s shoulders.
If this is what India’s World Cup hero could look like, world cricket is going to be better for it.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar: 6.5/10
13 wickets in 15 matches, economy 7.81
For a year post the 2017 Champions Trophy, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah were forging the definitive pace-bowling combine in ODI cricket. But where Bumrah has grown multi-fold, his senior partner may have stagnated a bit.
In the first two games of the season, Kumar went for 92 in eight overs – 72 of those runs came through four death overs. His season ended with a 2/42 in four overs during Sunrisers Hyderabad’s unsuccessful defense of 162 against Delhi Capitals in the Eliminator.
To be fair to the senior-most pacer in the Indian World Cup squad, he was quite good in the matches in between – but India will demand better control of Kumar, especially at the death.
Mohammed Shami: 8/10
19 wickets in 14 matches, economy 8.68
If India are bothered by Kumar’s dipping fortunes, they have Shami’s soaring profile to make up for it.
The 29-year-old lived up to the INR 4.8 crore paycheck given to him by Kings XI, and finished tied for fifth on the wicket charts along with fellow India seamers Bumrah and Khaleel Ahmed. In fact, Shami’s balls-per-wicket ratio of 17 was second only to Khaleel’s 11 among all Indian pacers in IPL 2019.
The economy might look high, but bear in mind that he was part of a Punjab attack that was the second-leakiest in the competition. Also, it still made for a sizeable personal increment – Shami’s economy rates in the three previous seasons of the IPL had been 10.41, 9.35 and 9.70, respectively.