There seems to be no end to India’s problems with player injuries, especially in the bowling department. The recent white ball series against Australia and South Africa has not been able to offer solutions because players successful in these matches have been batsmen, notably Shreyas Iyer and Ishan Kishan.
Iyer is a standby in the World Cup squad, Samson and Ishan Kishan not even that. But what makes the choice of the Playing XI in the tournament filled with deep apprehension and uncertainty is the uncertainty about the composition of the bowling attack.
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Stalwarts, Ravindra Jadeja and Jasprit Bumrah – who would have been certainties pulled out from the tournament in the previous fortnight. . Jadeja suffered an injury while water skiing on a rest day during the Asia Cup. Purely accidental, but losing the ace all-rounder nevertheless created a big void.
Things took a turn for the worse with Jasprit Bumrah, who had made a ginger comeback to international cricket after several weeks in rehab, broke down and was ruled out too. This left the Indian squad considerably weaker than what the selectors or team management would have liked.
While Jadeja’s absence has been filled to some extent by Axar Patel,frantic measures to find a replacement for Bumrah, however, have so far come to nought.
With Deepak Chahar pulling out of the ODI series against South Africa with a dodgy back, and Mohammed Shami’s recovery and fitness still suspect after a protracted bout of Covid, the 15th place in the squad for the World Cup still remains in suspense.
Chahar and Shami were touted as possible replacements for Bumrah and included for the matches against Australia and South Africa and if both can’t make the cut, the situation would get precarious. Mohammed Siraj, Avesh Khan and Shardul Thakur are also now in the running. But none of these are obviously priority choices, which has added considerably to the anxiety of coach Rahul Dravid and captain Rohit Sharma.
India’s first match is against Pakistan on October 23. It hardly needs telling how crucial this contest is, for reasons of sentiment as well as making progress in the tournament.Winning this match would almost assure India a place in the knock-out.
In the 2021 WC, India had lost to Pakistan and were disappointingly eliminated from the tournament before the knockout stage. Dravid and Rohit realise the importance of starting well in the tournament. For that, they need the strongest XI to take the field. But as yet, it is unclear what the line-up will be.
Ironically, India’s problems are not located in the batting, as was feared till a few weeks back, but in the bowling. Bumrah and Jadeja would have been entrusted with 8 overs had they been in the team, with 12 overs to be spread between other bowlers. Who should bowl these 8 overs is now the source of great worry for the team management.
Axar Patel, like-for-like replacement for Jadeja, has been in excellent form with a happy knack of picking up wickets. But his international experience is limited. How quickly he adjusts to Australian conditions is also a concern.
India has three specialist spinners (Chahal, Axar, Ashwin) and a part-timer in Hooda. India are likely to play two specialists, but which two is unsure.
The pace attack, which seemed hassle free till hit by a spate of injuries in the last fortnight, poses more dilemmas for Dravid and Rohit. That Bumrah’s absence is a cruel blow cannot be overemphasized.
With Bhuvaneshwar in suspect form, especially in the end overs, there is not much experience to go by apart from Hardik Pandya, if both Shami and Chahar fail to recover fully in time. Harshal Patel, a specialist in this format, has also looked below par since his return from injury. Young Arshdeep is a fine prospect, but in a World Cup, the pressure on him will be enormous.Moreover, he too has been suffering from some back problem and had to be rested against South Africa.
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In quite a number of recent matches, India have conceded 200-plus runs on a fair number of occasions which is ominous.
Because of the extraordinary late developments following injuries to key bowlers, India will have to lean heavily on the batting to provide big scores, and give the bowling attack more buffer. More particularly, this means substantial runs from the top 4, Rohit, Rahul, Kohli, Surya Yadav to make competitive scores.
The form of these four in the T20 matches against Australia and South Africa was hugely encouraging. But this has to be sustained in the tournament. As a ballpark, two, if not three from these four, must consistently make big scores for India to make a winning impact in the World Cup.
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