Often in success, one’s weaknesses get masked and even overlooked at times. Riding high on the euphoria of the 5-1 ODI series victory against South Africa recently, the Indian team is in a very similar phase. Their success in the ODI series and in the first T20I against the Proteas has been achieved courtesy a combination of great bowling and superlative batting by the top three batsmen. The story of their middle-order, though, is not very rosy.
It is clear through the ODI series and after the first T20I that the Indian middle-order has regularly failed to capitalize on good starts and convert them into big totals. They have looked ordinary even when the team has been doing well and this raises serious concerns for the team’s future.
Even head coach Ravi Shastri has expressed his concern over the brittle-looking Indian middle order and has stated that the team would need to take a hard look at this matter after the South African tour is over.
To delve deeper into the issue, here are a few points to consider for India’s middle-order woes.
An unsettled middle-order:
The Indian middle-order certainly gives off an unsettled look. The numbers 4, 5, 6 and 7 have been jostled around too much in the past season. Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer, Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav have all been tried in the different middle-order slots in the last few ODI series with mixed results. After Ajinkya Rahane scored a fluent 79 in the first against South Africa recently, one thought that he could lead India’s middle-order revival but his form dipped after that, bringing old issues back to the surface. Manish Pandey and Kedar Jadhav have been inconsistent, and MS Dhoni generally struggles to finish games these days. The others have had success in patches and overall the Indian middle-order is struggling to get a move on after the top three have laid the foundation. Perhaps it is time to give specific roles to the batsmen in the middle-order and let them thrive in it for at least a couple of seasons.
The Dhoni dilemma:
Where does MS Dhoni go from here? The batting position of India’s ace wicket-keeper batsman seems to be causing much headache and confusion to the Indian team management. A lot of experts have vociferously said that given Dhoni’s experience and modified batting ways, he needs to be batting at the No.4 or 5 positions for India. Because, clearly, the 36-year-old Dhoni is not the finisher he once used to be and looks uneasy coming in to bat at No.6 or 7. His strike-rate in the ODI series against South Africa was just 81.17 and given the amount of time he takes these days to settle in, it is unlikely that Dhoni would be able to suddenly find his touch there and begin smacking balls out of the park anytime soon. Dhoni is more of a grafter these days and it is prudent to utilize him in the 4th or 5th positions for India. After all, it is in these two positions that Dhoni averages above 50 respectively and has 5 hundred along with 26 fifties. Rather than forcing him in a role he is uncomfortable in, the Dhoni dilemma can be solved if he is given the slot he thrives in.
Need for a proper finisher:
With the rise of Hardik Pandya it was assumed that India’s finishing headache has been solved. The hard-hitting all-rounder made waves last year with his pyrotechnics as he bludgeoned the ball savagely during the last overs to provide spectacular finishes for India. However, of late Pandya seems to have fizzled out as a finisher and chinks have been discovered in his armory. In the ODI series against South Africa, he managed just 26 runs at a poor strike-rate of 74.28. It has now become apparent that Pandya struggles with the moving ball and when the ball is bowled at his body at pace. He has been unable to clear the boundary in the last many games regularly and as a result India has been struggling in getting good numbers in the last 10 overs. While Pandya cannot be replaced immediately, he certainly needs to sort out his weaknesses to be considered as a long-term finisher for India. Also, the team management should begin considering some other, fresh faces for this position.
Trying out youngsters
If Team India wishes to put together their 2019 World Cup puzzle together, they need to perhaps now try out fresh faces in the middle-order and give them a long run. The top three for India is likely to be the same and since the middle-order has been muddled in myriad issues, it is about time to try out new faces that can infuse it with energy. The talented KL Rahul has been treated rather shabbily by the team management. The 25-year-old opener was the most successful Indian batsman across formats very recently but after trysts with injuries, has lost his place. With Rahane struggling to find consistency, Rahul can come as a breath of fresh air in his place – he has the class to excel in it. Then there are the likes of young Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson who ooze talent and class have been extremely consistent in domestic cricket. It is imperative that these two are at least given decent opportunities in the Indian middle-order prior to the World Cup. Trying out the 2018 U-19 World Cup stars, Prithwi Shaw and Shubhnam Gill, would not be a bad idea either.