With the World Cup just around the corner, the Men in Blue hardly look the unit that can capture the coveted trophy. Already written off by ex-players Dean Jones and Stephen Fleming, this team wears an unsettled look from top to bottom, making fans nervous about its chances, with many fearing a repeat of the 2007 heartbreak. Captain MS Dhoni, who has led India to three trophies already, would know the tension better as India struggles to find the right combination ahead of the big day on 15th February when they take on Pakistan in Adelaide.
Here are some of the headaches for Dhoni and Co.
Opening Combination –India’s opening woes start and end at Shikhar Dhawan. With almost 400 runs in his last three innings as Opener, Rohit Sharma looks all set to come out to open the batting in the World Cup, but going by his recent struggles on Australian tracks, Dhawan might not be there with him at the other end. It’s a matter of concern as the opener, pivotal to India’s Champions Trophy win in 2013, was groomed keeping in mind this edition of the World Cup. Dropping Dhawan would mean pushing Rahane up the order, unless someone in the team think tank takes Chappell’s advice of opening with Binny too seriously. Although the Mumbaikar has proved his mettle at the Test level in the last year, an average below 30 in ODIs shows that constant shuffling of his position in the batting order has resulted in a stunted growth of his ODI career. Plus, while India have dabbled with Rahane Dhawan combination and Sharma Dhawan combination, Rahane and Rohit have opened only twice, and hence are thin on experience.
Muddle in the middle – The team management have fidgeted so much with the middle order in the past one year that barring Captain Dhoni and Suresh Raina, no one seems to be sure which batting position they belong to. The crucial number 3 position finds no fixed occupant as under the label of experiment for the World Cup, Ambati Rayudu keeps getting sent at the fall of the first wicket before returning with frugal returns. Kohli’s batting position has generated debates around it as many feel that he being the best batsman in the team should occupy the number 3 slot. With Rahane expected to play at the top of the order, the number 5 position will in all probability go to Suresh Raina. But that would result in MS Dhoni, India’s last established batsman, at number 6 after whom India looks down at a long and brittle tail.
The All Rounder– With the likes of Shahid Afridi, Corey Anderson, Shane Watson, this World Cup looks high on All-Rounder quotient, but India doesn’t have the luxury of one. With the new rules, India can no more rely on part timers to give good 10 overs, and that’s where the All-Rounder becomes so important in the setup. Ravindra Jadeja is India’s best bet but his fitness remains under question mark. India would hope Jadeja to do a Yuvraj in 2015, striking gold with both bat and ball. But for that to happen, Jadeja the batsman has to improve by miles and before that, get completely match fit. Stuart Binny and Axar Patel simply lack the experience to deliver goods on both the fronts at this level despite the obvious potential.
Bowling Woes– India’s new ball attack with Shami and Bhuvi has shaped up well in the past one and a half years, yet it doesn’t possess the threat that one would associate with Starc-Johnson, Steyn-Morkel or Broad-Anderson. The experience of Harbhajan and Zaheer is no more there to fall back upon as was the case in 2011. Their replacements Ashwin and Ishant Sharma both average above 30. Besides, India’s failure to develop a death over specialist can prove costly on the World Cup stage. In all, India’s bowling attack lacks the X-Factor.
Off Field controversies– If the Dhawan-Kohli spat wasn’t enough, Dhoni’s sudden retirement created enough ripples become a major source of distraction for the team. Stuart Binny’s inclusion in the squad hasn’t been welcomed by the experts and Captain Dhoni would be feeling the pressure if the selection isn’t justified for Binny comes in place of a name that was too big to ignore for many- Yuvraj Singh.
Conditions – Despite being Down under for more than 2 months, India don’t have anything to show in their win quota yet, a clear indication that the Men in Blue are still getting used to the conditions. The bowlers have looked completely out of sorts in conditions that were expected to aid the likes of Shami, Bhuvneshwar and Ishant. The big grounds, in huge contrast to the smaller grounds back home, will affect India’s abilities to kick on in the later part of the innings.
Fitness troubles– Bhuvneshwar Kumar is coming back from an injury lay off and so is Ravindra Jadeja, who are both very important to India’s plans in the World Cup. Rohit Sharma is unlikely to play in the tri series and might miss out on the warm up games as well. Besides, some fitness issues here and there can always crop up when the team is on such a long tour as this.
The signs are ominous. The pressure is huge. The favorite tag is no more there. It is in such times that teams of real quality reveal their true character. India has done it before. A young Indian team it was in 2003 who after a dismal New Zealand series went to South Africa as a bunch of no hopers, before stringing together a dream sequence of 8 wins on a trot to reach the finals under Sourav Ganguly. Can India under Dhoni repeat it, and go one better instead? An Indian fan would keep his fingers crossed.