Jai Prasad V. Rai
A series victory after over 25 years in South Africa and the No. 1 ranking in One Day Internationals doesn’t really come as a big surprise to me. A great accomplishment considering that two of India’s successful captains, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Sourav Ganguly, were not been able to achieve the same.
It’s been a dream run for Team India so far. The form India have shown in the recent years, under the talismanic captain Virat Kohli, shows how meticulously planned this journey has been.
No doubt this young Indian brigade are the world’s best ODI team and truly deserve the top ranking. The success bodes well for India with the World Cup due in just over a year’s time. The current combination looks in perfect order but for some minor re-jigging, for which the selectors have sufficient time to work on.
Kohli has been the go-getter and is absolutely leading the team by example. His contribution of 429 runs in five innings so far, that includes two centuries and a half century, is a clear indication on how he has handled the responsibility.
Along with his form, Kohli, after taking over as the ODI skipper last year, has always been stressing on the need of having a pool of players to experiment before finalising the perfect squad that would participate in the elite tournament. That process looks very much on course.
India’s batting department looks rock solid particularly the top order. With Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma more or less sealing their positions as openers, Kohli makes it perfect at No. 3.
The slight worry, though, is the middle order but its work in progress. Ajinkya Rahane, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey and even Dinesh Karthik have been tried to fill that slots.
It’s also difficult to ignore Yuvraj Singh, India’s Man of the Series in 2011 World Cup, who currently is going through a fine patch in the domestic level.
Dhoni looks set to be the wicketkeeper-batsman for the World Cup squad after which we may see him hang his boots on his illustrious career. But given his age, India will need a backup wicketkeeper.
India’s spinning option is spoilt for choice with Ravichandran Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel all in the reckoning while Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Sami and Umesh Yadav looking good to wrap up the pace department.
Gaping holes needed to be filled by Kohli’s high-flyers
The current Virat Kohli-led One-day team have been flying high but in my view, this is not the best team India has ever witnessed in the shorter format. I would like to keep the World Cup winning squad of 2011 ahead of them on depth and experience.
There are many gaping holes that needed to be filled. This team’s batting has been shouldered by only the top three batsmen — Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli — and bulk of the bowling lays in the hands of two wrist spinners, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav.
The middle order, starting from No. 4 with despite many players tried and tested over the last few series, wears a weak and unsettled look. Medium-pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar has often seen steadying the ship with another batsman, which does not augur well for the team’s batting.
The issue gets accentuated with the lack of all-rounder options like Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
On the Indian bowling front, the pacers have not done something of note in the ODIs so far on the South African wickets that offer pace and bounce. So should the two wrist spinners have a bad day, like they did during the rain-affected fourth ODI, then the attack looks toothless.
With England hosting the next World Cup in 2019, it could become tricky for Chahal and Yadav to grip the ball in cold conditions, which could be detrimental to the team’s fortunes.
However, I believe the Indian team, who began the journey in 2008 and ended as the 2011 World Cup champions, were a better outfit with plenty of depth in batting and bowling. The strong batting line-up included Virendra Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Kohli and all-rounders Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina with skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni at the height of his prowess to give the finishing touches.
The bowling also was well balanced with veterans like Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and co with spinners Ashwin, Harbhajan and Piyush Chawla giving variety to the attack.
One might argue that Dhoni’s team was successful on Asian wickets, but they also proved that they could win on Australian soil by winning the Commonwealth Bank tri-series apart from winning the series away in Sri Lanka, New Zealand and West Indies while losing to South Africa 3-2.
Though this current team have won all of the last six series, five of them came at home. Kohli’s men will have to survive the litmus test in Australia, England and New Zealand before they can be called the unbeatables.