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India vs Ireland: Tweaks on the Cards as India Seek Ideal Mix for England's White Ball Mavericks

Gaurav Kalra |Cricketnext | Updated: June 29, 2018, 9:15 AM IST
India vs Ireland: Tweaks on the Cards as India Seek Ideal Mix for England's White Ball Mavericks

Indian team celebrate a fall of wicket during the first T20I against Ireland. (Cricket Ireland image)

As lung openers go, it was near on perfect. In Malahide on Wednesday, cobwebs were shed with comfort and the potential banana peel that the pre-game build up suggested was easily averted. 76 runs is a pretty big margin to separate teams in a 50-over contest. In a T20, it is a hiding.

Once inserted on losing the toss, the established firm of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma constructed a good old fashioned beating up. They consumed 16 of the 20 overs on offer, leaving the others only to swinging merrily duties to fatten up the total at the rear end of the assault. Together they fashioned India’s second highest T20 international stand but perhaps most importantly, Sharma, felt leather on willow again in the creamy, sublime way that has become his signature and hadn’t happened too often off late.

Sharma, one of India’s white ball giants, has endured a bit of a wretched run in recent weeks. 14 innings in the IPL had delivered just 286 runs at under 24. Axed from the Test squad for the one-off skirmish against Afghanistan, he needed an early rediscovery of the verve in his play on this tour. There’s only eight limited overs games before the big-ticket event of the season, five Test matches, begin and Sharma, indications are, won’t make the cut for those.

So, restored to the top of the order, after demoting himself as leader of the Mumbai Indians to the middle, Sharma will be desperately eager to continue the momentum this near hundred has provided.

With this early gallop, Dhawan and Sharma have created what cricket people call a “happy headache” for the team bosses. Neither would want to make way but skipper Virat Kohli insisted after the win that he these two games against Ireland were going to be used as an opportunity to play “everyone” ahead of the sterner challenge of confronting England’s white ball mavericks. Now, among those “everyone” desperate to get a go on Friday will be K L Rahul. Recent sightings of his demolition jobs at the top of the order have been breathtaking.

At his new IPL home Kings XI Punjab, not only did Rahul plunder 659 runs, the third most for the season, he did so at a staggering strike rate of 158.41. It was the sort of weighty performance that would assure most players a permanent slot penciled in the next squad they show up in. Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri will surely want to see for themselves if Rahul has packed that devastating form and carried it along for this tour. In this game, against a chastened bowling line up, may just be the ideal platform to do so.

The middle-order tweak might be harder to make. With only 24 balls to share between them, none of Suresh Raina, M S Dhoni or Kohli, who in fact dropped himself down to six and was promptly dismissed for a second ball duck, have had a reasonable hit. Each of those men, as well as Manish Pandey, who had a miserable IPL season, will be keen on some game time, leaving the management with a conundrum called Dinesh Karthik.

At 33, Karthik is one of the elder statesmen in a squad bristling with youngsters but these have been a few golden months for him. His heist in the final of the Nidahas Trophy, where a last ball six delivered India in the title, remains one of the standout moments of the year. As captain of the Kolkata Knight Riders, batting higher up the order than he does for India, Karthik scored nearly 500 runs at a strike rate of almost 150, and was one the bulwarks of their run to the play-offs.

Now with his stock at all-time high and consistent eye-catching form behind him, Karthik will be itching for a go himself. However, with Dhoni having rediscovered his brutal hitting ways in the IPL and Hardik Pandya around for the final stretch muscle, the role of finisher has several incumbents already in place. The gloves remain firmly in Dhoni’s custody and that might just mean that Karthik’s introduction to the mix on this tour might take a while coming.

Among the bowling reserves too, Kohli and Shastri are spoilt for choice. Both Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were given an extended rest after the rigours of the IPL and found some rhythm in their first taste of action since the hiatus. Between them only 35 were conceded in 8 overs and a couple of wickets were picked up as well.

For Umesh Yadav and Siddarth Kaul to get a go immediately on Friday would mean giving the first-choice attack a breather as soon as they hit the ground running. It will be a tricky balancing act; as will finding a spot for young Washington Sundar, after the wristy deceptions of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzuvendra Chahal flummoxed the Irish batsmen in the first game.

Quite clearly, having seen England decimate Australia in six limited overs matches just lately, the Indian management has identified these two games in Ireland as a scouting exercise for the ideal mix to field for that challenge. In a squad of 16, each of whom make a strong candidacy for a first XI spot, the task becomes that much more arduous. On Friday, they will enter the field to win a cricket match and pocket a trophy, but equally importantly, to give themselves the chance to assess the most suitable personnel for the tougher examination on the horizon.
First Published: June 29, 2018, 9:02 AM IST

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