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India vs West Indies: As 2019 nears, Ajinkya Rahane, Kuldeep Yadav and others must firm up spots in XI

India was supposed to win the ODI series in West Indies. They did. A surprise loss in the fourth ODI kept things interesting till the end of the series, but Kohli’s team was in no mood for an upset. As usual, the team stepped up with the added pressure of a must-win game in the final ODI and shut the door on a spirited but inexperienced West Indian team. The West Indian team and the fans finally turned up in the T20 game, the format that suits them the most and showed why they are the world champions.

After the loss in the Champions Trophy final, the ODI team has its eyes set on the 2019 World Cup. Any series they play from here will be seen as part of the preparation for the next big ODI event. They have to try and win every series and of course, the fans will be satisfied by nothing less, but the big cup remains their priority.

With 2019 in mind, there are two sets of players that are under the microscope. The first set comprises aging stars who may not be available in 2019, or their abilities may deplete so much in two years that they wouldn’t deserve a place in the playing XI. The two big names that fall under this category are MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh. As Rahul Dravid put it before the start of the series, the selectors and team management will have to take a call on their role in the team soon.

Ajinkya Rahane plays a shot during the fifth ODI against West Indies. AP

Ajinkya Rahane plays a shot during the fifth ODI against West Indies. AP

Based on the evidence of this series, Yuvraj probably has a tough future ahead. He didn’t do much in the Champions Trophy after playing an important knock in the first match against Pakistan. More importantly, he looks listless in the field and is only going to get slower in his movements in two years from now. On a flat deck, Yuvraj can still turn back time with his carefree range hitting, but he is too much of a luxury to carry now in international cricket where you encounter different pitches and different bowling attacks in every other game.

Dhoni, despite the disappointment of not being able to take the team to victory in a regulation run chase in the 4th ODI of the series, still did enough to retain his spot as the first choice wicketkeeper-batsman in this team. His fitness is still top class, he is an important part of the leadership group on the field and India may still need his calming influence in the middle come 2019.

The second set of players that were under scrutiny in this series were those that weren’t part of India’s first choice XI in the last couple of series. Ajinkya Rahane and Kuldeep Yadav were the flag-bearers of this group and their performance in this series didn’t just prove their quality, but also made a case for giving in-form players more games to prove their worth.

With Dinesh Karthik playing a handy knock in the final ODI and then in the T20 game, the case for aging players going through indifferent form gets even weaker.

Rishabh Pant was unlucky to miss out in the ODI series, but he has time on his hands. If he is looking for inspiration to get over the disappointment of warming the bench for long periods of time, then he only needs to look to the ODI man of the series Ajinkya Rahane, who spent several series on the bench before making his Test match debut and is now doing the same in the ODI team. A place in the Indian team doesn’t come easy. Rishabh will have to be continuously at the top of his game and make the most of any opportunities that he gets in future.

Kohli praised Rahane’s versatility in giving the team the option of playing as an opener or in the middle order. At the moment it doesn’t seem he will be in the first choice ODI XI despite his stellar performance in this series. His ODI career seems to be headed on a similar path as that of VVS Laxman's.

Kuldeep Yadav bowls against West Indies during the fourth ODI. AP

Kuldeep Yadav bowls against West Indies during the fourth ODI. AP

Laxman was a lower order Test batsman and the man for every crisis for over a decade. He played a few match-winning innings in ODIs as well, but his strike rate and inability to rotate the strike made him a misfit in the modern ODI game. Rahane has much more going for him in the shorter format. He is a brilliant fielder and is capable of playing the odd big shots especially off the back foot.

Perhaps Rahane needs to bat with a little more freedom at times and make sure he is making close to run a ball most of the times. His hundred in the second ODI should serve as a template for him to do that. The team management on their part needs to tell him that he will get an extended run no matter how he performs over a span of a few games or even a few series.

The West Indies series showed that the Indian cricket is spoiled for options right now and for each position, there is at least one capable replacement available. In years to come, some more fluidity in selection could well be the difference between an Indian team that reaches the semi finals and finals of major international events and an Indian team that has a packed trophy cabinet.

Updated Date: Jul 10, 2017 10:34 AM

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