More questions than answers ahead of T20 World Cup
Virat Kohli's first T20I hundred certainly means a lot but counts for little.
India have exited from yet another multi-nation tournament having failed to rise up to the occasion during crunch games and with a lot of questions without answers.
If Virat Kohli finally breaking the century jinx with his 71st is good news for all cricket fans, it also poses a few questions that need to be put in perspective.
How much of importance will you give to a hundred that came in a dead rubber when there was absolutely no pressure?
Afghanistan's bowling attack has shown a lot of potential in this tournament but playing back-to-back matches in this punishing Sharjah heat, how should they be judged?
Having lost a close and emotionally draining game less than 24 hours back, was Afghanistan physically and mentally ready for another gruelling game?
The top three and its impending problems?
And this brings us to the most basic question? Will this (Rohit, KL Rahul and Kohli), be India's top three going into the T20 World Cup?
Yes, it seems so if one sees the kind of support that both Rohit and Kohli have shown for an under-pressure Rahul, whose "wicket preservation first" approach in Powerplay overs has more often than not put India in trouble.
"We have to keep him in good head space as we know what he can do," Kohli said during his interaction with Rohit on bcci.tv.
One could gauge that both the seniors want Rahul to settle down with six more international games (vs Australia and SA) and two warm-up left before start of T20 World cup?
So isn't the sameness (three right-handers) that seemed to have hurt India during the 2021 edition coming to haunt them again?
Without an iota of doubt, if anyone among the top three misses out on the playing eleven, it will be Rahul as both Rohit and Kohli have shown that they can switch gears effectively.
There is a school of thought that Surya Kumar Yadav be promoted as one drop batter but the clearer picture perhaps will only emerge once they play the home series against Australia in two weeks' time.
Rahul is a supremely talented batter with all the strokes in the book-- both orthodox and unorthodox, but at least in Asia Cup, he did not show any distinctive change in his approach. He only attacked after settling down.
Kohli in his chat with Rohit indicated that he will switch back to his "old template" of finding gaps and hitting more boundaries than trying to hit sixes.
"If I can take 10-15 balls to settle down, then I can accelerate," Kohli told his skipper.
The problem is that in 50 over cricket, 15 balls of quiet period isn't a big deal but the moment it is a match of 120-deliveries each, that quantum of balls become invaluable.
We have seen that in the second Pakistan game where Kohli got 60 off 44 balls.
As far as the middle order is concerned, the tournament didn't provide a definitive answer if Rishabh Pant is more suitable than the team's oldest player Dinesh Karthik, who has been earmarked for a specific 15-ball role at the end of the innings.
As far as Pant is concerned, the free-flowing bat swing that we are used to seeing in the Test matches is conspicuous by its absence in this format.
Karthik was played in three of the five games but haven't got to bat a cumulative 10 balls in the tourney.
So you can't really judge who will finally make it to the playing eleven if not both?
But can coach Dravid be a bit more flexible and not just set a role for Karthik -- like 10 balls in the end or something like that? Because in case of Pant, he has been used sometimes as a floater -- before Hardik Pandya or after him depending on match situation. Both without success.
For the reserve middle-order batter, the multi-skilled Deepak Hooda remains favourite but one should discount Sanju Samson at his own peril.
The absence of Ravindra Jadeja post knee surgery (he got reportedly injured during the team-bonding activity) is going to hurt India the most.
While Axar Patel is a very sincere cricketer but when it comes to giving the batting flexibility, like Jadeja coming in at No. 4 against Pakistan in first game, that will be beyond lanky Gujarat lad's bandwidth. He is a capable enough batter but certainly not as good as Jadeja.
The Indian team is also very senior dependent as it was evident when Ravi Bishnoi, despite a fine game against Pakistan, was benched in the next game. In Australia, where there will be an extra pacer required, Bishnoi could well miss the first team bus.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar gave 19 runs in the 19th over against Pakistan but he was again given the same duty against Sri Lanka and he faltered again.
While a five-wicket haul against Afghanistan is fine but as Gautam Gambhir put it succinctly in commentary, as a senior bowler, Bhuvneshwar will be expected to provide wickets with both new and old ball without being one dimensional.
It would have been interesting to see whether Arshdeep could have done a better job with the 19th over in one of the games, as he has bowled a lot of penultimate overs for Punjab Kings.
But with Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel set to get fit, Arshdeep will find it difficult to get a first XI look-in while Avesh Khan is unlikely to even find a place in the final 15 if one goes by his form.
Avesh hasn't shown a lot of cricketing smarts in the shorter version and as former coach Ravi Shastri said, Mohammed Shami should have not been dumped completely from this format.
As India travel to Australia, what looks worrisome is that there is a repeat of 2019 when till the defeat against New Zealand in the semi-finals, the Indian team couldn't find a suitable No. 4.
Here, the top three isn't looking convincing (one needs to discount the Afghanistan game) and one middle-order and one bowling slot is yet to be fixed.
There are questions and it is sooner the better if Dravid can find the answers.
India (likely 15 and 5 Stand-bys):
Specialist Batters (4): Rohit Sharma (captain), KL Rahul (vice-captain), Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav,
All-Rounders/middle-order (2): Hardik Pandya, Deepak Hooda
WK/finisher (2): Rishabh Pant, Dinesh Karthik,
Spinners (2): Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel
Pacers (5): Jasprit Bumrah (subject to fitness), Harshal Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Arshdeep Singh.
Likely Stand Bys: Sanju Samson, Avesh Khan, Ravi Bishnoi, Shreyas Iyer, Deepak Chahar.