With Test cricket taking priority, India’s push towards world dominance in limited overs has taken a back seat. Skipper Virat Kohli has made it clear where his priorities lie, having chosen the period around the Asia Cup to recharge his batteries.
The tournament has lost some of its sheen due the star batsman’s absence. The broadcasters have already expressed their displeasure. What should have been drummed up as an event which renews the India-Pakistan rivalry has instead turned focus onto Kohli or his absence, thereof. It’s not just the star value, but the stability he brings to the batting order. It will be interesting to see how India copes with this void.
This is not the first instance that Kohli has taken a break during a limited-overs series. However, in the past such developments have occurred during low-profile tournaments, against opponents that haven’t been formidable.
The Asia Cup, though, pits them against old foes Pakistan, an outfit which has only grown in confidence since beating India in the Champions Trophy final last year.
This will be the first time the two teams will square off since that high-octane clash. One would have thought redemption would be high on the priority list, however, the team management has chosen the spell to give its overworked star a breather.
The show, though, will go on. Rohit Sharma is leading in his stead and has plenty of boxes to tick as India turn focus to ODI cricket after a long spell of Test cricket.
The World Cup is now less than a year away. Under the new Kohli-Ravi Shastri regime, India’s success rate in high-profile series, in Tests or otherwise. hasn’t been all rosy.
The Test series loss in South Africa and England has taken away a lot what this core group has worked towards in the last one year. The Champions Trophy loss prior to Shastri’s entry still rankles. It does not help matters that this outfit also came up second best against England in the ODIs that preceded the Test series.
The biggest strength of India batting order in ODIs is their top-order. The combination of Rohit, Shikhar Dhawan at the top followed by Kohli at No 3, has worked well for India in the recent past. It is the middle-order which has been unstable and given rise to a lot of churn.
Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul and Dinesh Karthik. The list of names tried out at the No 4 slot is a long and exhaustive. None, though, have managed to nail the spot. It is likely that Ambati Rayudu will get a go in this series. However, a promotion for Dhoni up the order cannot be ruled out.
Till now, room for these experiments, though, were largely based on the stability that Kohli and the openers provided. With the skipper absent, it might be cause for some concern. The line-up suddenly appears shaky. In Pakistan, India have a formidable opponent to contend with. Their bowling attack is one of the best in the world. With the pressure of an India-Pakistan game to boot, the contest will be fought tooth and nail.
Rohit downplayed the clash, stating that the series was not just about two teams but six. The pressure of an Indo-Pak encounter is quite different. Being staged in UAE, the matches between the two teams are sure to attract a lot of interest from the South Asian diaspora in the country. While Indian players and fans are still recovering from the hectic England tour, the rest in fray are all charged up. An early exit or another defeat to Pakistan would leave an indelible mark on the side ahead of the World Cup.
The biggest challenge, though, will be to face the pressure in the absence of Kohli. Rohit, through his leadership of Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League has proved himself to be an able captain. But, it is Kohli the batsman who might end up being missed the most. It is a void that cannot be easily filled.
But, it was a decision that was taken and not forced upon the team management. One would hope their confidence in the bench strength is repaid with as much enthusiasm.
There are fears that the team is over-reliant on his batting ability. According to reports, broadcaster Star Sports in its letter to the BCCI has stated that fans tend to turn off their television sets when the star batsman gets out.
In the Asia Cup, India won’t have his services but will hope others in the team are adept, not only to dominate the opponents, but also impressive enough to hold the attention of millions of fans, who invariably will tune in to watch them play Pakistan and Co.