Unsettled India running out of time quickly

Quest for settled combination ahead of next years World Cup remains elusive

Unsettled India running out    of time quickly

By bringing up his second consecutive century in a month’s time, Virat Kohli has more or less has assured himself of a berth in the World Cup squad, leaving the chasing pack for the middle-order slots way behind.

More than the amount of runs, the manner in which he gathered them was most remarkable, showing how much he has matured in the last one year or so. As heartening as Kohli’s imperious form is, India’s quest for a batting all-rounder, who can lend the much-needed balance to the top-heavy side, remains unfulfilled.

One can say it’s still early days to come to any conclusion as the series is still in its infancy, but do we really have much time left to arrive at a settled combination by the time the World Cup kicks off?

India will be playing just nine more one-dayers, including five in South Africa, before the mega event in the sub-continent commences in less than three months’ time, and they haven’t played their full-strength team even once in the last nine months.

With five World Cup certainties – skipper MS Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh – likely to play together only in South Africa, one can’t help but wonder if India might be leaving it too late to get their composition right.

In the absence of a genuine all-rounder, who can bowl his full quota of overs and use the long handle to good effect, India have in the past adopted a policy of seven batsmen and four specialist bowlers, especially while playing abroad.

They hit the jackpot with this formula in the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, where they reached the final. On bouncy tracks where there is a lot to keep the bowlers interested, it’s not a bad idea to depend on four specialists and let the part-timers chip in with ten collective overs.

But is it feasible to embrace the same strategy on the sub-continental pitches? If one of your specialist bowlers has an off day, then you will be giving a free run for the opposition for a good 20 overs.

That’s where lies India’s problem. For long, they experimented with Irfan Pathan to fill the void as an all-rounder of sorts. With the Baroda player proving ineffective, the Indian team has on and off dabbled with his brother Yusuf to do the job for them, but the older Pathan has so far flattered to deceive.

He is a destructive batsman when the ball is pitched in his hitting arc, but he doesn’t inspire the same confidence with the ball in his hand.

Sunday was a classic example of that when he went for 24 runs in his two overs. It can’t be wished away as a one-off instance because even in the past, Dhoni hasn’t shown enough confidence in allowing Yusuf to go through his 10 overs.

His batting has become a lottery of late, given his susceptibility against the rising ball. Opponents have begun to unleash the short stuff the moment he arrives at the crease, like Kyle Mills did on Sunday; to invest in him is a huge gamble, and India must think long and hard if it is worth it. There aren’t many choices that, however. There is only Ravindra Jadeja, who has proved equally disappointing.

This predicament brings us back to the question of playing seven specialist batsmen. It can be argued that given the nature of the batsmen-friendly pitches, the bowlers are bound go for runs anyways.

So why not stack the side with batsmen -- at least three of whom can bowl more than reasonably well -- and back them to do the job?

Comments (+)