The Indian cricket team seems to be peaking at the right time.
With the ODI World Cup set to begin on October 5, the Indians have now ensured that all eyes will indeed be on the home team.
Before the Asia Cup and the ongoing Australia Tour of India, there was uncertainty around its middle order, the bench strength and the fitness of key players. Now, there not only seems clarity but a sense of optimism around the team.
The team is stepping into the tournament as one of the strongest sides on paper. If anything, they have a problem of plenty. A happy problem.
After months trying to narrow down a World Cup squad, this is a problem that the Rahul Dravid-led management will probably be happy to deal with.
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The ongoing ODI series against Australia was being looked at as essential practice for the team from Down Under, who were looking to get acclimatised to the conditions and hoping for some of their injured players to get the required gametime.
For India, meanwhile, chief selector Ajit Agarkar chose a slightly different squad for the first two ODIs against Australia with a focused aim.
Key players Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Kuldeep Yadav and Hardik Pandya were rested for the first two games, allowing other players to step up before the main event as well as giving the management the chance to iron out the remaining creases.
In a gradual turn of events, the middle order – the management’s main concern – has come into its own. Suryakumar Yadav, who was being backed to execute the same heroics as he does in the shortest T20 format, seemed to finally find his rhythm in ODIs.
He has played 26 innings in the last two years and looked like the backing was all worth it in his last two outings. He scored a 49-ball 50 in the first ODI and a Surya special unbeaten 72 off 37 in the second.
Ishan Kishan had already built a case for himself in Shreyas Iyer’s absence when he scored four consecutive fifties, including 82 against Pakistan, in a tough situation. KL Rahul, since his first game on return, has been playing like the four-month injury layoff did not happen.
However, Iyer’s comeback seems to have made his case stronger. He scored a 90-ball 105 in the second ODI to show that there shouldn’t have been a doubt about his place in the team despite his fitness.
As of now, Iyer and Rahul take precedence in filling the No 4 and 5 slots. And, in Kishan and Yadav, they have their back-ups ready for a long, long tournament.
In the bowling line-up, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj are sure-starters. However, the selection headache for the management is likely to kick in again with Mohammed Shami looking in great touch as displayed by his five-for in the first ODI. The question now remains whether India would opt to go with three specialist pacers or continue with two specialist pacers and Shardul Thakur.
With the Indian team shaping up nicely ahead of the all-important event in their own backyard, the next box to tick is to ensure this clarity now reflects in the starting XI they list on the team sheet at the World Cup.