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What is going wrong for Team India

July 02, 2019 07:06 IST

Injuries, confusion over team changes and replacement players have compounded problems for India, who look bereft of a clear strategy and have stumbled after a good start at the World Cup, says Harish Kotian.

Team India

IMAGE: India escaped defeat by the skin of their teeth against Afghanistan, a match they nearly lost, before being outclassed by England. Photograph: Cricket World Cup/Twitter

It seems the cracks are opening up wide as India approaches its crucial league stage games at the World Cup and heads into the knockout rounds.

Having made a perfect start with five wins from six games, which includes a wash-out, India looked the big favourites along with Australia after England hit a roadblock, following defeats to Pakistan, Australia and Sri Lanka.

But things have gone terribly wrong for Men in Blue and Orange, both on and off the field in the last few days and they now seem to have hit a rough patch. They narrowly escaped defeat against minnows Afghanistan and a few days later were completely outplayed by England as they went down by 31 runs for their first defeat in the tournament.

India escaped by the skin of their teeth against Afghanistan, a match they nearly lost before the bowlers clinched an unlikely win after the batsmen had struggled big time against the spinners, but they enjoyed no such against England after they were outplayed with both bat and ball.

Injuries and confusion over team changes and replacement players have further compounded India's problems.

 

To cut it short, here is how India went about their replacements after two of their players were ruled out of the World Cup with injuries: An opener was replaced by a middle order batsman.

A few days later, it was exactly the opposite as a middle order batsman was replaced by an opener, clearly highlighting the lack of co-ordination between the team management and selectors and poor planning by both.

Injury to Shikhar Dhawan meant India had to resort to Plan B, which meant K L Rahul -- who started the World Cup at No 4 -- had to switch back to opening the batting while Vijay Shankar, the original choice for No 4, was slotted in that position.

Shankar's lacklustre showing at No 4 meant India were forced to switch to Plan C as they called in for a reinforcement in the middle order instead of a reserve opener in place of Dhawan, who was ruled out of the tournament.

Ambati Rayudu's exclusion from the original 15-member World Cup squad generated debate, especially because Shankar was preferred ahead of him.

But when the time to call for a middle order replacement, the selectors preferred to call up rookie Rishabh Pant instead of the experienced Rayudu, who many feel paid the price for his 3D tweet directed at Chief Selector M S K Prasad after his World Cup exclusion.

Shankar's injury withdrawal has thrown further questions at the Indian team management. The all-rounder has been ruled out of the World Cup with a toe injury which he reportedly suffered during India's training session on June 20 after he was hit by a yorker from Jasprit Bumrah.

IMAGE: Coach Ravi Shastri speaks to veteran Mahendra Singh Dhoni whose patchy form with the bat is a huge concern for Team India. Photograph: Cricket World Cup/Twitter

Shankar was subsequently cleared to play in India's next two games against Afghanistan and the West Indies, but strangely enough the toe injury flared up before the England game as he missed the team's optional training session on Saturday, on eve of the match.

Adding to the confusion was Captain Virat Kohli, who stated on Saturday said the Tamil Nadu all-rounder was very close to playing a defining knock for India in the World Cup.

When Shankar missed out against England because of injury, Pant took his place in the playing XI instead of Dinesh Karthik -- a proven middle order performer with the bat and also the original member of the World Cup squad.

More confusion followed as India made another surprise decision to call up Karnataka Opener Mayank Agarwal who has not played an ODI yet as Shankar's replacement on Monday.

Agarwal was not part of the Indian team for the home ODI series against Australia where all the World Cup hopefuls got a look-in. Agarwal also didn't have a great IPL compared to Manish Pandey or Shreyas Iyer.

Was Shankar really injured or was he forced out to allow India to change the team combination?

Many were surprised when Shankar, who according to the BCCI, had 'sustained a non displaced fracture of the left big toe, which will require a minimum of three weeks to heal' was running to the middle at regular intervals with the drinks despite the reported toe injury during the match against England on Sunday.

'If Vijay Shankar has a toe niggle and that's the reason not to play why is he running drinks.. No one else there to do that job,' tweeted former India player Murali Kartik. Clearly, there is more to come from this!

If India were serious about bringing in a middle order batsman to replace Shankar at No 4, they could have gone back to Manish Pandey who has hardly got opportunities to stake his claim after Rayudu was preferred in the last year or so.

Shreyas Iyer was another player who has had a few good years with the bat in domestic cricket and thew IPL, but continues to be given the cold shoulder by the selectors.

There is a possibility that India could change its combination yet again. With Rahul struggling for runs at the top of the order, he could be slotted back at No 4 and Agarwal could be drafted as the opener.

It remains to be seen how quickly he joins the squad and whether he is trusted with the tasking of opening the batting in an important game like the World Cup semi-final if India do go through and Rahul's patchy form continues.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni's patchy form with the bat is another big concern for Team India.

'You can't be chasing 338 and still have 5 wickets in the end. It's about mindset and the way you look at the game. The message had to be clear: No matter where it comes and no matter where the ball lands you have to find the boundary,' former captain Sourav Ganguly said about Dhoni's 31-ball 42, which included a 6 in the last over when the game was already out of India's reach.

With Dhoni struggling to score runs quickly in the end overs, he could come in at No 5 while Pant could be utilised lower down the order along with the dangerous Hardik Pandya.

India take on a confident Bangladesh on Tuesday who have come up with some strong performances in this World Cup and could prove to be a difficult opponent.

Just four games separate India from another World Cup title and unless Kohli & Co. regroup and sort out the current mess, things could keep going downhill for the two-time champions.

HARISH KOTIAN / Rediff.com
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