India won the three match One-Day International series against West Indies 2-1 by winning the decisive third and final match by 200 runs at the Brian Lara Stadium on Tuesday. They received a reality check in the second game, when they were bowled out for just 181, but they swiftly erased the memory of a poor showing to bounce back.
In hindsight, all’s well that ends well. Or, is it?
With senior players in captain Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli rested, it is good that India finished with this result but there were still glaring concerns in the team. With just two months to go for the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023, the overall look of the team is still uncertain with the chopping and changing within the squad.
It was a problem that the previous management and leadership was criticised for and India find themselves in a similar situation yet again. With the Asia Cup and Australia ODI series being the only game time before the marquee event, India would have liked to reach a few more conclusions after the end of this series against West Indies.
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Here’s a look at a few takeaways from the series:
India decided after the first ODI that they could indeed afford to rest their main players against this opponent. As a result, Sharma and Kohli sat out the other two ODIs. Mohammed Siraj missed the series to rest after he felt a niggle in his ankle. And that brought in the opportunity for players like Ishan Kishan, Mukesh Kumar, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Sanju Samson to build their cases.
However, a problem still persists. The Indian management is trying and testing potential options in the absence of their first preferences Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant. But this was too small a sample space to make any concrete decisions.
Even in the series, there was no consistency in who was batting at No 4. In the first ODI, Hardik Pandya batted at that spot. In the second ODI, it was Axar Patel. In the third, Sanju Samson was given a shot.
India coach Rahul Dravid explained the experimentation saying: “Honestly, this was our last chance to be able to try out some of our players. We’ve got few of our players who are injured, who are in the [National Cricket Academy]. With a month to go for the Asia Cup, we are kind of running out of time in a lot of ways.
“We are hopeful that some of them will be fit for the Asia Cup and the World Cup, but we can’t take those chances and we have to try out other people and we have to give other people some chances so that in a worst-case scenario, at least they have game time behind them.”
Despite all the experiments in the batting order, the team doesn’t seem anywhere close to finding a suitable result.
Depending on all-rounder Hardik Pandya
“I’m a turtle right now, not the rabbit and hoping everything goes right as the World Cup comes on,” said Hardik Pandya, as reported by ESPNCricinfo.
The Indian all-rounder not only returned to competitive cricket after a two-month break post the conclusion of the Indian Premier League season, he also took on the responsibility of the skipper from the second ODI onwards. However, in the three ODIs, he has bowled only 13.4 overs and picked up just one wicket. It is understandable that he is easing back into it and is taking precautions by managing his workload considering his injuries off-late.
However, because the full picture about the effectiveness of his bowling is not visible yet, there is room for apprehension about him being a dependable bowling option in the lead up to the World Cup.
Additionally, there seems to be a dip in his hitting prowess, as displayed in the IPL too. In the last two seasons, his strike rate has been around 131 as compared to 178.98 in 2020 and 191.42 in 2019. Across formats, he now adopts a more thought-out batting approach which is far less explosive.
He finished the ODI series with 82 runs in three matches at an average of 41 and a strike rate of 112.33. Interestingly, 70 of the 82 runs came in the third ODI. Even then, he stuck to the take-it-deep approach when he came to bat at No 5.
He defended his decision-making in the post-match presentation saying, “I took it deep intentionally, wanted to have some time out in the middle. Had a great chat with Virat before the game, he wanted me to spend some time out in the middle and get used to the 50-over format. Really thankful for him to share that experience with me. Once you hit one ball and get into rhythm things are very different.”
Ishan Kishan shines
Ishan Kishan was the player of the series having scored 184 runs at a strike rate of 111.51 including a 77 in the decisive third ODI. The India head coach admitted to being pleased at how the 25-year-old had grabbed his opportunities with both hands after the second ODI.
“I think Ishan has done well,” said Dravid in the press conference.
“This is his third fifty in a row, counting the Test one as well. He is someone who is taking the opportunity when he is given the chance. I think that’s all we asked from a young player.
“We want to give them as many chances as we possibly can. We can’t give everyone a chance all the time; there are other talented guys as well,” he added.
In December 2022, in a match against Bangladesh, he became the seventh and fastest batter to score a double-century in ODIs. With this consistent run against the West Indies, he may have finally secured his spot in the team for the World Cup.
However, the question remains whether that spot will be at the top of the order as a backup opener and a second wicket-keeper batter, or will India be tempted to play him at four instead? That is the spot that is up for grabs in the absence of Iyer and Rahul, after all. The management has often been impressed by current form and consistency to select a player. Even if that means playing him out of position. It remains to be seen whether they follow the same method with in-form Kishan.