India coach Anil Kumble seeks focus to avoid another ICC Champions Trophy disappointment
■ Champions Trophy, India v Pakistan ODI: Sunday at 1.30pm UAE time
For anyone getting carried away by India’s form in the two warm-up matches before their Champions Trophy opener against Pakistan on Sunday, one name should provide a reality check – Trelawny.
It is not just the name of the parish in northern Jamaica where Usain Bolt was born, it was where India played a World Cup warm-up against the hosts 10 years ago. Brian Lara top scored with 22 in an innings that lasted just 25.5 overs. Munaf Patel took 4-10, and Irfan Pathan 3-25 as West Indies were skittled for 85. India won by nine wickets, with 31.3 overs to spare.
Eight days later, they lost to Bangladesh in their first match of the tournament proper. Another loss, to Sri Lanka, meant that they were packing their bags for home, exactly two weeks after the Trelawny demolition job had seen them installed as the most likely threats to Australian dominance.
Current coach Anil Kumble, who as a player took a wicket with the only ball he bowled in the Trelawny game, would have taken the positives from the warm-up victories against New Zealand and Bangladesh without getting carried away.
For now, his primary task is to keep the current squad focused, especially with newspapers back home carrying stories about how his relationship with Virat Kohli — the captain, and another strong-willed character — has allegedly broken down.
The two men have selection headaches to contend with. With the exception of Ajinkya Rahane, who is unlikely to get a look in, every other player in the 15-man squad is in contention to start against Pakistan.
Dinesh Karthik, a late replacement for the injured Manish Pandey, was supposed to be a bench option, but he followed up a nine-ball duck against New Zealand with a sparkling 77-ball 94 against Bangladesh.
With Yuvraj Singh not batting in either game, and Kedar Jadhav getting a hit only against Bangladesh, it will be fascinating to see which middle-order alternatives India opt for.
If both Yuvraj and Jadhav are to play, that could mean dropping Hardik Pandya, who aside from smashing a 54-ball 80 against Bangladesh offers a pace option with experience of bowling at the death.
Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, so instrumental in the victory four years ago, will be reunited at the top of the order, with Kohli coming in at the Viv Richards position of No 3. After that, with the exception of MS Dhoni, it is anybody’s guess how the batting order will look.
The bowling presents an even bigger conundrum. A country that once had part-time bowers such as Sunil Gavaskar and Eknath Solkar taking the new ball is now spoilt for choice.
Mohammed Shami was superb in the win over New Zealand, while Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav blew Bangladesh away inside eight overs.
Jasprit Bumrah, whose accurate yorkers present an appealing late-overs option, has 22 wickets from 11 one-day internationals. It could well come down to horses for courses, with the ever-accurate Bhuvneshwar perhaps the only certainty to start.
Four years ago, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin were both central to India’s success, on pitches that may as well have been airlifted from the subcontinent. Even if conditions are not as favourable this time, both spinners have a wealth of experience and nous to call on, against batsmen not necessarily adept at working the ball around.
For Kohli, this is a first big white-ball assignment as captain. Dhoni, his predecessor who is likely to be used as a middle-order floater, won the full set as leader — the World Cup (2011), the Champions Trophy (2013) and the World Twenty20 (2007).
Kohli has led the Test side to the top of the rankings after being handed the reins. This challenge, away from the familiar conditions where the Test team have thrived, could be the making of him as a limited-overs leader.
Expect India to make the semi-finals. Beyond that, it becomes a test of nerve. A group of players with a whopping 1,570 ODI caps between them is unlikely to be too fazed by the prospect.
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Updated: May 31, 2017 04:00 AM