With the World Cup coming sharply into view, time is all but up for teams to make serious adjustments to their plans. We’re into a period of fine tuning. India, tournament favourites along with the hosts, England, have been putting the finishing touches to their preparations. In what looks set to be an aggressive tournament from a batting perspective, do India have the firepower to win their third World Cup?
The top three
This is the most dangerous aspect of India’s batting. Coming in first drop, captain Virat Kohli is the greatest ODI batsman of all time. In this cycle (since the end of the last World Cup), he has 3996 runs at an average of 79.92, including 17 centuries. No one comes close. Except, perhaps, Rohit Sharma and his 3,588 runs at 62.94 and 15 centuries. He may consistently and somewhat bafflingly fail in Test cricket, but Sharma is a leading light in the ODI game. His opening partner, Shikhar Dhawan, is no mug either.
This is the settled engine room of India’s ODI machine.
The middle order
This is where the picture becomes a little less clear. India haven’t found their ideal number four, although Ambati Rayudu is the man in possession and has enjoyed a reasonable time of things during India’s 4-1 series win in New Zealand, top scoring with 190 runs in the series. He averages 61 in this cycle, but from only 25 games. He has been a bit in and out of the side but has played in the last seven ODIs. Dinesh Karthik provides the competition.
It’s then on to a far more familiar face in the form of MS Dhoni. A man of his advancing years comes under severe scrutiny during any downturn in form, but he went someway to answering his critics with a couple of stellar performances in Australia in January. He’s India’s fourth top scorer in this cycle.
Positions six and seven are then a little unclear. Vijay Shankar batted six in Wellington, having made his debut in Australia, but this is, to date, his only innings with the bat. He bowls right-arm medium and India are clearly eyeing him up as a horses for courses selection in the all-rounder’s berth for a tournament in England.
Kedhar Jadhav appears likely to appear in some capacity in the lower middle order. He bowls some very handy off spin and has 982 runs at 44.64 in this cycle. He will likely bat ahead of the explosive batting of Hardik Pandya, who is more of a bowling all-rounder as things stand, but has the healthiest strike rate (116.58) of any Indian in this cycle to have played more than five games.
This is where India look likely to struggle compared to some of the competition. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has a handy record with the bat, but his average of 21 in this cycle is inflated by a 53 not out in his total of 315 runs. His strike rate of 71.42 is weak, too. Jasprit Bumrah, a certain starter if fit, is a stonewall number 11, although if India are relying on him, it will already be too late. Kuldeep Yadhav and Yuzvendra Chahal are the other spin options down the order, with Mohammed Shami looking likely to be considered in the seam spot. None of these are quality batsmen down the order in the way that England have firepower provided by the likes of Liam Plunkett, David Willey and Adil Rashid.
But – and this is quite important – these bowlers are better bowlers than their counterparts. India have genuine variety and a plethora of options in attack. Ravi Ashwin hasn’t put on a blue shirt in over a year and Ravindra Jadeja has played his way back into contention with some sterling work in Australia. He is a more than useful batsman.
So, will India opt for superior bowling options, or compromise slightly in the pursuit of batting depth by opting for Jadeja ahead of Kuldeep or Chahal? It’s not a question England have to ask themselves, but will India make the right choice?
“As far as our chances are concerned, I will not hesitate in saying that we are the favourites,” Sachin Tendulkar told PTI. “I have gone on record saying that we have a perfect balance in the team where we will be competitive in any part of the world or on any surface.” The confidence is there and justifiably so.
India certainly have the top order and the bowlers to succeed – although any injury or loss of form suffered by Kohli would render them almost uncompetitive (he’s just that good) – but the middle order is undoubtedly a concern. Whereas early wickets aren’t so harmful to England, they could decimate India. The drop off in averages and strike rates away from their top three is marked, whereas England are capable of carrying on the most vicious of assaults.
The game plan to beat India? Get early wickets. It’s as simple and as difficult as that! If you can keep Kohli quiet, you will keep India quiet. Good luck with that, though.