Road to World Cup: There's many a slip between the cup and the lip

If we were viewing the series in isolation, India’s 2-3 defeat by Australia after winning the first two games will call for some scathing criticism. However, this will have to be tempered by the awareness that captain Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri had decided in conjunction with the selectors that India would try out a few things in the series.

Road to World Cup: Theres many a slip between the cup and the lip

Australians celebrate the fall of an Indian wicket during the 5th ODI in New Delhi.

There were some wake-up calls that the Indian team was subject to in the five-match Paytm Cup series. In many ways, it is just as well that these have come before the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019. Had these happened during the mega event, the side would have been left to deal with a few issues with little time to think. These will forewarn and forearm the team management.

Kohli conceded after the series that Australia was more energetic and passionate than the home side. It is also significant that he admitted his team did not win the crucial moments in the last three games. However, he said there was no panic in the Indian dressing room and that the support staff was not down either. And that could be quite a big positive.

To keep the team’s morale high through a defeat can be quite a task but Kohli and Shastri have managed that. They have ensured that the synergy — actually it is the additional energy available when a bunch of individuals work together harmoniously — is such that each player is aware of his individuality but also experiences a sense of being merged with an entity greater than himself.

No, these are not straws that a drowning team would be clutching at desperately. On the contrary, these are the bricks and mortar that will ensure that the outfit is quite fortified during the stiffest tests in the World Cup. These are reinforcements that will bolster the squad as one of the most competitive.

The biggest takeaway, if it can be called that, is the reiteration that India’s batting will have to come to party if it is to live up to its billing as one of the world’s top sides. Its successes in the recent months have been built on the strength of a potent attack and classy performances by its top three batsmen, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan.

In the midst of a form slump, the left-handed Dhawan will have realised during and after the 143 he made in the fourth game in Mohali that it helps to step on the turf with uncluttered thinking. It would appear that it will be coach Ravi Shastri’s key challenge to ensure that he and the other members of the trio take the field each time with such positive thoughts and bat deep.

Indeed, these three batsmen will have to rise to the occasion in the World Cup if India is to go the distance in cricket’s biggest carnival. Barring the seasoned Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the inexperience of the middle-order is there for all to see and India did precious little to resolve it during the five-match series.

It is pretty well known that Ambati Rayudu, KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant are leading the race to bat at No. 4 in the World Cup but none of them played the whole series. So, if India was looking for answers to a known problem, it did not give itself the chance to find any. Not even to jettison any of them from the World Cup plans.

Be that as it may, India learnt to play without Hardik Pandya providing the balance to the side. His injury kept him out of the series and let India give Vijay Shankar and Ravindra Jadeja an extended run each as batting and bowling all-rounder. While they left themselves with work to do with their other skill, they handled their primary responsibilities adequately to make the selectors think.

Barring blips on flat decks in Ranchi and Mohali where India erred in playing a specialist bowler less and was unable to defend 358 on a dew-laden outfield respectively, India’s bowling did not cause much stress. Of course, the idea of the two wrist spinners, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, came under scrutiny, with Jadeja staking a claim as an orthodox left-arm spinner.

The fact that Chahal played but one game while Jadeja gave a good account of himself with his nagging accuracy in the four games that he was preferred could be an indicator that he has come in the frame as far as World Cup squad selection is concerned. Yet, it is possible the wise men will take into account Chahal’s overall strike rate and pick him.

For all that, if the Indians learnt to identify the pressure moments and then work to win them the series will have done them a good turn. By Kohli’s own admission, Australia was on top on most such occasions and India was left with having to identify these opportunities.

Despite that, India had reasons to cheer, not the least being Kohli’s sublime skills with the bat. His hundreds in Nagpur and Ranchi were testimony to his being the fulcrum of the team’s batting. His boundless energy and his insatiable hunger to be seen as a leader of men — evidenced by his support of wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant against the chants by the crowd — are part of his evolution.

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Updated Date: Mar 18, 2019 15:02:10 IST

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