India’s dreams of lifting their 3rd World Cup trophy came crashing down on Wednesday after the defeat to New Zealand in the semi-final but the disappointment has been a long time coming as the team consistently chose to make some baffling decisions in the lead up to the tournament.
- India crashed out of World Cup 2019 on Wednesday after going down to New Zealand
- The uncertainty regarding the No.4 spot came to haunt them in the semi-final
- In the past 4 years, India have been plagued by a number of selection errors both on and off the field.
There is no doubt that coming into the World Cup 2019, India had the best top-3 going around in the world. The combination of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli at the top for India, meant that they won more often than they lost and thus masked one of the persistent shortcomings in the team: lack of a solid middle-order. But the team was still able to paper over the cracks owing to an increasingly superior bowling attack and the aforementioned trio.
Here is a chronicle of some puzzling decisions which the Indian team management made in the run-up to the World Cup 2019:
“He needs pace. We have seen that he plays a lot better on pitches that have some pace. But on a slow pitch, whenever he has batted at No.4 or 5, he does have a problem in freely rotating the strike at the start of his innings. I think Ajinkya will have to wait,” said MS Dhoni after dropping Ajinkya Rahane from the Indian ODI side on India’s tour to Bangladesh in 2015.
Till date Rahane has played 90 ODIs, averaging 35.26 and striking at 78.63 runs per 100 balls. He was axed after the South Africa tour in 2018 where he averaged 35 with a strike rate of 76.92 including a 79 and two unbeaten 30s as India wrapped up a 5-1 series win.
A team which has struggled to find a proper solution to their long-standing No.4 problem chose to overlook Rahane for the World Cup even though he came up with 597 runs in 11 List A innings since the South Africa tour including 2 big hundreds and 3 half-centuries. Prasad acknowledged the same before the start of the home ODI series against Australia.
“In domestic cricket, he has been in form,” Prasad said. “He is very much in contention for the World Cup.”
It’s not like Rahane had significantly boosted his strike-rate in the intervening time between the South Africa tour and the start of the ODI series but unfortunately, he still found himself out of the side for the Australia series. Is it really a mystery when he was ignored when the selectors met on April 15?
3D and IPL form
“No, I don’t see the IPL having any influence on World Cup selection. I think that will be a very, very radical sort of analysis. I don’t see anything changing on how the IPL goes for any of the players” Virat Kohli said on the eve of the first ODI against Australia in March 2018.
Ambati Rayudu had received the backing of Virat Kohli for the middle-order role at the World Cup as early as August 2018 after some impressive performances in a home series vs West Indies. And he would have fancied his chances after Kohli’s statement. But a poor start to the IPL coupled with an injury that saw him sit out a few matches for his side Chennai Super Kings, Rayudu could only watch in utter disbelief as Vijay Shankar, the 3D player, was preferred over him.
“After the Champions Trophy, we have tried a few middle order options. We gave a few more chances to Rayudu but what Vijay Shankar offers is 3 dimensional. If the conditions are overcast. he might bowl a bit and he is a fantastic fielder. He is a batsman who can bowl,” Prasad said.
KL Rahul as back-up opener
“To begin with KL will be reserve opener if the need arises (for him to play at No. 4) the team management will take a call,” said MSK Prasad on April 15 while announcing India’s squad for the World Cup 2019.
Yet in India’s opening match of the tournament, Rahul was batting at No.4 while Vijay Shankar was not even in the playing XI. Shankar only slotted in when Shikhar Dhawan injured his finger against Australia but soon found himself on the fringes having suffered a freak toe injury. The result: Rishabh Pant, who was earlier thought of being ill-equipped to handle the pressure situations according to Prasad, found himself trying to shoulder the Indian innings during the business-end of the tournament. The fact that Shastri ended up praising Pant in the role which he wasn’t imagined to be fit for 3 of months ago defies all logic.
“And Rishabh Pant did look pretty secure when he got out to bat, even against Trent Boult, didn’t he? You could then say that if Pant had continued and not got out but that’s sport. You grow up in quick time,” said Shastri on Thursday. Maybe he is such a quick learner that in the next 3 months, Pant could surprise all of us by going to the moon.
MS Dhoni’s role
In the 2011 World Cup final, after not having spent too much time at the crease during the whole tournament, MS Dhoni suddenly promoted himself up the order and we all know what happened next. During the recent semi-final against New Zealand, when India were 5 for 3 and then 21 for 4, one would have expected Dhoni to come out again as he is the best guy to arrest a collapse. Sure, Dhoni isn’t the captain any more but he is also not the swashbuckling batsman that he used to be. In conditions offering a lot of assistance to the New Zealand bowlers, serving up 2 youngsters – Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya – while Dhoni biding his time in the dressing begged logic.
Coach Ravi Shastri later defended the approach saying that it was a ‘team decision’ to keep the ‘greatest finisher of all times’ in the reserves.
“It was a team decision. Everyone was in with it – and it was a simple decision, too. The last thing you wanted was Dhoni coming out to bat early and getting out – that would have killed the chase. We needed his experience later. He is the greatest finisher of all times – and it would have been criminal to not make use of him in that way. The whole team was clear on it,” said Shastri.
This seems counter-intuitive when you look at Dhoni’s stats in World Cup 2019. Dhoni’s 273 runs in 8 innings came at a strike-rate of 87.78 and his “finishing skills” came under a lot of criticism during the games against Afghanistan, West Indies, England and of course, New Zealand.
Dinesh Karthik as back-up wicketkeeper
“The situation that was discussed in the selection committee meeting is one of them (Rishabh Pant and Dinesh Karthik) will play in the XI only if MS Dhoni is injured. Under such circumstances in a crunch match, who is the best guy who can handle the pressure? That’s is the reason that went in favour of Dinesh Karthik,” MSK Prasad had said.
“Under pressure, we have seen Dinesh Karthik finish matches. So that’s scored for him.”
Yet, Karthik suddenly was in the team against Bangladesh despite MS Dhoni being a constant presence in the playing XI and continued in the next 2 matches including the semi-final. He scored 14 runs from 2 innings and one can’t help but wonder whether he has already played his last ODI.