Ringside view by Tushar Bhaduri: Need to tie loose ends | The Financial Express

Ringside view by Tushar Bhaduri: Need to tie loose ends

Despite the recent bilateral series win, loose ends remain for team India before the 50-over World Cup later this year

Ringside view by Tushar Bhaduri: Need to tie loose ends
Cricketers KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya take a run during a match between India and Sri Lanka. (PTI)

By Tushar Bhaduri

Another bilateral series at home, and another victory for Team India. It’s not for nothing that facing India in India is considered one of the toughest assignments in international cricket.

That in itself should make India the team to beat at the 50-over World Cup later this year. But success in bilateral series doesn’t always translate into glory at major ICC events. Just see South Africa’s record over the last quarter of a century!

Also, Indian conditions are not as alien and inscrutable as they were a few years ago. The annual cricketing jamboree that is the Indian Premier League has resulted in most top players feeling at home in the subcontinent. On the other hand, some of the elite Indian batsmen genuinely struggle against quality spin on responsive pitches.

The hosts also have several questions to answer regarding their key personnel for the showpiece event. Rishabh Pant’s serious road mishap was something the Indian selectors and team management could have done without. The left-hander hasn’t taken the ODI format by storm as he has done in Tests, but he provides an x-factor to the line-up, especially with KL Rahul not firing on all cylinders and the jury still out on Ishan Kishan against quality bowling attacks over a longer spell than what he is accustomed to in T20 cricket, despite his recent ODI double hundred against Bangladesh.

The fitness or otherwise of Jasprit Bumrah is a long running saga. He is declared match-ready one day and ruled out the next. According to BCCI sources, he won’t be an all-format player this year and his workload management will be focussed on the 50-over World Cup. A fit Bumrah will give more teeth to the Indian bowling line-up. The team management will be keeping their fingers crossed while hoping their match-winner does not break down again.

Also read: Make up for the lost time

The musical chairs being played in the batting line-up also has an unsettling impact on the team. On the one hand, there is the temptation to play the first-choice XI consistently for them to get used to their roles and get secure and match-ready ahead of the big event. There is also the urge to give fringe players opportunities to prove themselves.

However, some calls are difficult to digest. Suryakumar Yadav has been breathtaking in T20 cricket, while underwhelming in ODIs of late. But his purple patch is being wasted sitting on the bench. Yadav’s game-changing ability could add another dimension to the Indian batting, where most others eye the long haul and build their innings towards a late-order onslaught. That approach didn’t bear fruit in recent T20 World Cups, while England have profited from taking a gung-ho approach to batting in all formats.

The men who matter

To be fair, while the selectors try to move on from some of the veterans in the 20-over format, they still have a valuable role to play over a longer white-ball innings, where they don’t always have to go berserk from the beginning. Top-order batsmen still have to be in for a long time, not always just a good time.

Kuldeep Yadav had the visiting Sri Lankans at sixes and sevens in Kolkata on Thursday, and his return to somewhere close to his best can only be good news for India as wickets in the middle overs will be absolutely crucial in the World Cup. With leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal not posing the sort of threat he used to in his pomp, the chinaman bowler could turn out to be a match-winner. Speedster Umran Malik may provide a similar cutting edge in the pace department.

Also read: Data Drive: Road projects in slow lane

The last time the 50-over World Cup was held in the subcontinent, 12 years ago, Mahendra Singh Dhoni led from the front as the team made the most of home advantage, while dealing with the pressure of expectations that came with it. That the players at his disposal were of a high calibre and were part of a settled line-up didn’t hurt either.

That is certainly not the case right now. Skipper Rohit Sharma missed the 2011 edition with injury, and the malaise seems to have plagued him throughout his career with fitness being a prime concern. The 2023 staging of the event is likely to be his last while Virat Kohli, who became a World Cup winner at 22, may also not get another chance.

India is always among the favourites for any ICC event, regardless of where it is staged. But the trophy cupboard has been bare for a decade now. The pain is felt even more because the team almost always makes it to the later stages of a competition before coming up short in a knockout game.

The series win over the Lankans (regardless of the final margin) and the ODI matches against New Zealand and even Australia may not matter in the big picture. Even if India win all these series but come up short in the big one, whispers about the ‘chokers’ tag, which is often used to refer to South Africa’s propensity to crumble under pressure, may just get louder in the Indian context as well.

Get live Share Market updates and latest India News and business news on Financial Express. Download Financial Express App for latest business news.

First published on: 15-01-2023 at 04:00 IST