Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 27 May 2019

Virat Kohli needs MS Dhoni and other takeaways from India-Australia ODI series

Bhuvneshwar Kumar may be ready but Rishabh Pant is still raw as focus shifts to IPL and then Cricket World Cup

Virat Kohli's Indian team will have much to worry about ahead of this year's Cricket World Cup. Altaf Qadri / AP Photo
Virat Kohli's Indian team will have much to worry about ahead of this year's Cricket World Cup. Altaf Qadri / AP Photo

It must be made clear at the very outset of this piece that there is an ebb-and-flow to most things in life, including sport and most certainly cricket.

Australia’s one-day international series victory against India this week does not make Australia favourites to win the Cricket World Cup in July, nor does it rule out India’s chances of doing so. After all, the tournament is still more than two months away.

Of course, the Australians have a right to be pleased with their form as they prepare for their final assignment before the World Cup: another five-match ODI series, this one against Pakistan in the UAE beginning next week.

On the other hand, the Indians have a few things to worry about, not least because they have no more ODI competitions left before the biggest of them all gets under way in England and Wales on May 30.

Here are some takeaways for India captain Virat Kohli, head coach Ravi Shastri and chief selector MSK Prasad to consider as the Indian Premier League offers them all a near two-month break before international competition returns in the summer.

Usman Khawaja, left, was named Player of the Series, while Rishabh Pant had a forgettable last game in front of his home fans in Delhi. Altaf Qadri / AP Photo
Usman Khawaja, left, was named Player of the Series, while Rishabh Pant had a forgettable last game in front of his home fans in Delhi. Altaf Qadri / AP Photo

India's lack of unlikely heroes

Who were the unlikely heroes on the Australian side? Opener Usman Khawaja, middle-order batsmen Peter Handscomb and Ashton Turner, leg-spinner Adam Zampa and fast bowler Pat Cummins.

Who were the unlikely heroes for India? Can’t think of one.

Among the stars, Virat Kohli and Kedar Jadhav were the only batsmen to click. Sadly, when the likes of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan did not, the next best players – Ambati Rayudu, Vijay Shankar and Lokesh Rahul – failed to rise to the challenge.

Much was expected of Rishabh Pant – MS Dhoni’s understudy as the wicketkeeper-batsman-in-waiting.

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Granted Pant only played the last two ODIs, but he betrayed a lack of maturity with the bat and was underwhelming while keeping.

There were reportedly chants of ‘Dhoni, Dhoni’ from a section of the Delhi crowd in the final game, which is so damning for the youngster given that he hails from the capital. Dhoni was rested, and some spectators made their preference loud and clear after having had enough of watching Pant behind the stumps.

Whether the 21-year-old makes the World Cup squad will probably depend on his performance in the IPL, unless the selectors decide to pick him as the work experience lad anyway.

In short, India cannot afford off-days from their star players in the UK.

Vijay Shankar, right, could have made the No 4 slot in India's batting line-up his. He failed to do so. Altaf Qadri / AP Photo
Vijay Shankar, right, could have made the No 4 slot in India's batting line-up his. He failed to do so. Altaf Qadri / AP Photo

Middle order could cost India World Cup

“Whoever gets picked in the end, India’s middle order will be its Achilles heel in the WC 2019,” former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar tweeted on Wednesday. He is spot-on.

India’s chief problem ever since the previous World Cup in 2015 has been a soft and mushy middle order, and little has changed. Rayudu proved inept in the first three games; Rahul continues to prove he is not yet a like-for-like substitute for Rayudu; and most disappointing is the fact Shankar missed out on the chance to make the No 4 position his.

And India are back to square one.

This leaves the management with little option at the World Cup but to rotate players in that position depending on the match situation – and pray that at least two of Rohit, Dhawan and Kohli fire in every single game.

Virat Kohli, right, desperately needs the experience and tactical nous of MS Dhoni at the World Cup. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo
Virat Kohli, right, desperately needs the experience and tactical nous of MS Dhoni at the World Cup. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo

Kohli needs Dhoni

This series proved once again the importance of Dhoni to this Indian team.

His batting may be a subject of criticism – he is not the impact player he once was – but there is no doubt he brings value to two other areas: quality behind the stumps and tactical nous. Last year’s Asia Cup in the UAE is a good example of the latter when he gave timely inputs to Rohit, the stand-in captain, on matters concerning DRS and juggling bowlers.

Kohli was surprisingly tentative at times in the 37-year-old's absence during the last two games against Australia; perhaps he feels more assured with his predecessor on the field, knowing he has someone he can go to for counsel during clutch moments.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, left, is one of India's best seam bowlers. But he is also handy with the bat. Altaf Qadri / AP Photo
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, left, is one of India's best seam bowlers. But he is also handy with the bat. Altaf Qadri / AP Photo

Bhuvi undroppable

Bhuveshwar Kumar is among India’s three leading seam bowlers across formats, the others being Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah. But there is another skill he brings to the mix, which the other two do not, and that is batting.

Bhuvneshwar has for long been considered something of a bowling all-rounder. He even proved it during India’s otherwise disappointing Test tour of England in 2014.

The 29-year-old has three Test fifties and one ODI half-century. He averages only a little more than 15 in 50-over cricket, but then he has batted in less than half the number of matches he has played in since making his debut six-and-some years ago.

The way he played his shots in the last match – albeit in a losing cause – should give India some confidence at the World Cup, especially given their tail is surprisingly long.

Updated: March 15, 2019 08:34 AM

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