Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 July 2019

Let MS Dhoni go, focus on Ravindra Jadeja and build middle-order: India Cricket World Cup talking points

Here are some ideas for Virat Kohli and the team management as they begin planning their 2023 World Cup campaign

Captain Virat Kohli and the Indian team management have a few things to think about during the break. Lee Smith / Reuters
Captain Virat Kohli and the Indian team management have a few things to think about during the break. Lee Smith / Reuters

It isn’t one bit provocative to say India were outplayed by New Zealand in the Cricket World Cup semi-finals. Neither is it inaccurate to suggest Virat Kohli and his teammates had a rare off-day in the tournament.

After all, India were beaten just once en route to the last four, while New Zealand had lost three on the bounce in the run-up to Wednesday’s game. However, there were already signs of vulnerability in the Indian line-up that the Black Caps did better than previous opponents to exploit.

The men in blue will take a few weeks off to unwind before the new season kicks in. But it is up to them, and the powers that run Indian cricket, to reflect on a bittersweet summer – what they got right, where they went wrong, and what they need to do to win the 2023 World Cup.

These pointers should help:

Hardik Pandya, left, and Rishabh Pant have yet to build their reputations as proper middle-order batsmen. Lee Smith / Reuters
Hardik Pandya, left, and Rishabh Pant have yet to build their reputations as proper middle-order batsmen. Lee Smith / Reuters

Fixing middle-order muddle

For the past five years, India have had the best top-order in the business, with Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Kohli scoring the bulk of the team’s runs. Therefore, there was little impetus to find permanent batsmen for the No 4 and 5 positions.

With Dhawan out injured shortly after the World Cup got under way, one of Rohit and Kohli had to perform in every match for India to win. But in a tournament as long as this one, both players were bound to have an off-day in the same game – and it happened on Wednesday.

MS Dhoni’s entry was deliberately delayed, keeping in mind the latter overs, and so it was left to flamboyant players such as Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya to anchor the innings and play the long game, which they couldn’t.

There is where India missed a player of Ambati Rayudu’s calibre and experience. Why the selectors dropped him just before the World Cup, after persisting with him for four years and 55 one-day internationals, is a puzzle. And to pick Pant, who had played just five ODIs, ahead of Rayudu as an injury replacement for Dhawan was even more perplexing.

With the 33-year-old having retired, presumably bitter, it is time for new selectors to come in and find long-term options. There are plenty of talented youngsters around, such as KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Shreyas Iyer and Shubman Gill, and they should be invested in over the course of the next four years.

Ravindra Jadeja has plenty of cricket left in him, but he needs proper guidance to realise his full potential. Michael Steele / Getty Images
Ravindra Jadeja has plenty of cricket left in him, but he needs proper guidance to realise his full potential. Michael Steele / Getty Images

Handling Jadeja better

Former India batsman-turned-commentator Sanjay Manjrekar had a point when he called Ravindra Jadeja a “bits and pieces cricketer”, because therein was a suggestion the southpaw had yet to realise his full potential as a player – especially in limited-overs cricket.

His ODI record of 2,112 runs at 30.60 and 176 wickets at 35.90 from 153 matches is not bad at all. But could it be better after more than a decade of being in the team? Absolutely.

Manjrekar had effectively given Jadeja a kick up his backside, for it fuelled his desire to prove him wrong – that he was more than just “bits and pieces”. Or perhaps right – that he was a world-class all-rounder who could win matches on his own. He nearly pulled it off against New Zealand.

At 30, Jadeja should be at the peak of his powers. With proper guidance from Kohli and the coaching staff, he could attain the heights he is capable of reaching.

MS Dhoni has served Indian cricket well, but maybe it is time for him to make way for younger players. Nathan Stirk / Getty Images
MS Dhoni has served Indian cricket well, but maybe it is time for him to make way for younger players. Nathan Stirk / Getty Images

Letting go of veteran players

With seven of the 17 players involved in the World Cup on the wrong side of 30, the time is now to begin the process of renewal. Three players who should be feeling the heat right now include Dhoni, 38, Kedar Jadhav, 34, and Dinesh Karthik, 33.

It might be easier for the selectors to let go of Jadhav and, in particular, Karthik, who brings little value to the side anymore. But Dhoni’s stature, experience and tactical nous still carry plenty of weight. However, he is not batting like he used to, especially at the death, and while he is still tidy behind the stumps, he is making the occasional error of judgement. Remember the Jason Roy catch he did not appeal for?

In his own interest, as that of his team, it is time for the wicketkeeper-batsman to make way for Pant and ride off into the sunset – if nothing else, to safeguard his great legacy.

Rohit Sharma, left, and Jasprit Bumrah were India's best batsman and bowler at the World Cup. Nathan Stirk / Getty Images
Rohit Sharma, left, and Jasprit Bumrah were India's best batsman and bowler at the World Cup. Nathan Stirk / Getty Images

Managing Rohit and Bumrah

India’s most successful batsman, Rohit, and prolific bowler, Jasprit Bumrah will continue to be the most important players in the team for the next four years. But with Rohit, 31, not getting younger, and Bumrah a paceman with a rather strange action, both players will need to be preserved in order to ensure their longevity. It will be easier said than done, but necessary.

Updated: July 11, 2019 03:27 PM

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