India’s last ODI before World Cup: What needs to be worked out

Australia‘s record four-wicket victory in Mohali has set up the final ODI in New Delhi as not a just a tasty decider, but has now turned India‘s final match before the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup into a must-win in which team combinations are critical.

A couple choices for the fourth ODI raised eyebrows – there were four changes made – and how Virat Kohli and his think-tank operate for Wednesday’s game could give further insights into the team’s World Cup plans. (READ: Talking points: Ashton Turner turns it, India keep spilling it)

Here are five talking points on India’s selection:

Get Kohli back at No 3

Fact: Kohli is India’s best batsman. Fact: He has had the most success in ODIs batting at No 3. Fact: India need him batting at No 3.

Ravi Shastri, India’s coach, stated recently that batting Kohli a spot lower at No 4 was something he had considered. It not an ideal choice, but one that India are being flexible about looking at the World Cup. But Sunday in Mohali proved a bad move to do so.

Virat Kohli has to bat at No 3 if India are to win the World Cup
Virat Kohli has to bat at No 3 if India are to win the World Cup. (IANS)

When Rohit Sharma was dismissed for 95, it wasn’t Kohli who walked out at No 3 but KL Rahul instead. Kohli had last batted at No 4 in October 2015. Clearly it was a move to give the recall Rahul a chance to show why he should go to the World Cup. As it panned out, Rahul made 26 off 31 balls, with one boundary, and Kohli scored 7, his second single-figure score in his past 31 ODI innings. India got 358 and lost the game.

Coincidence? You be the judge. Batting at No 3, Kohli has amassed 8723 runs at an average of 63.67 with 34 of his 41 ODI hundreds.

If you have to try Rahul, do it at No 4

And with Ambati Rayudu struggling – he was rested for the fourth ODI – Rahul is better suited at No 4. Why disturb Kohli at No 3?

Not having a fixed batting spot in ODIs has been a frustration for Rahul, which he admitted last year during the Asia Cup. His ODI career has been up and down, dogged by inconsistency. Rayudu probably remains India’s preferred No 4 for the World Cup, but getting Rahul two games to see what he does makes sense. But he should bat at No 4, seeing that in England, if required, that is where his chances will most likely come.

Two spinners or one for England?

As a pair, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal have been instrumental in India’s success over the past two years. Of that there is no debate. The question is whether in England they will play in tandem. In this series, Kuldeep has played all four matches. Chahal just one, the last in Mohali, where he had figures of 1/80 in ten overs.

Once poor match on a dew-laced track, yes, but India not playing Kuldeep and Chahal in tandem for the first three ODIs suggests there are doubts as to whether the pair will team up in England. Of course, not having Hardik Pandya around upsets the balance of the team.

Come the World Cup, two frontline pace bowlers and Pandya are certain, but will India still pick two wrist-spinners? The Delhi ODI may reveal a lot.

Is Jadhav reliable as a part-timer?

His place as India’s No 6 for the World Cup is confirmed, but Kedar Jadhav‘s bowling has suddenly become a matter of concern. In the last two ODIs, Jadhav’s side-on, low-hanging offspin has been carted for 76 runs in seven wicketless overs. In Ranchi, on a dry surface, he was hit for 32 runs in two overs. In Mohali, where dew was a factor, Jadhav went for 44 in five with Peter Handscomb both hitting him for two sixes and two fours with ease.

Kedar Jadhav has proven successful as a part-timer, but the last two ODIs were costly.
Kedar Jadhav has proven successful as a part-timer, but the last two ODIs were costly. © AFP

While it can be argued that it’s just two games that Jadhav has been off-colour, with just one ODI left before the World Cup, opposing teams may see a weak link.

In eight ODIs before the Ranchi game, Jadhav’s economy rate was a very good 5.05. And he’s been able to break partnerships and give batsmen problems. But doubts may have crept in, and his ‘golden arm’ reputation may have taken a hit.

Is Pant worth the punt?

Rishabh Pant being named in India’s ODI squad with Dinesh Karthik dropped indicated that the former was the man to be MS Dhoni’s understudy at the World Cup.

But that is not looking so certain, especially after Pant’s poor outing behind the stumps in Mohali where he missed a stumping and failed to collect the throw that should have run out Handscomb. It underlined the value of Dhoni, who was rested for the last two ODIs in as certain an indication as any that he has played his last international match in India. Dhoni will be back for the World Cup – in all probability his final shot at glory – and India still need to identify a second wicketkeeper.

Pant’s batting has not been too hot either, and thus the fifth ODI at the Feroz Shah Kotla becomes a big platform for him to impress.

Here’s a scenario: what if Pant has another poor game, and then a middling IPL, while Karthik puts in a 500-run IPL season while keeping wickets and leading KKR astutely? It is not plausible that the selectors ditch Pant for the World Cup and go back to Karthik?

In the always churning world of Indian cricket, anything is possible.