Team India were off to a rather poor start in what was their first ODI since the ICC Cricket World Cup, as they suffered a massive 79-run defeat at the hands of erstwhile minnows Bangladesh. Questions were looming large over the team’s calibre in general and the captain’s credibility in particular. There was a major need to repair the damage; and experts as well as fans demanded that measures be taken.
Two days later, however, as skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni walked out at the toss, with the team sheet in hand, not many were expecting the surprise, rather, the shock, that lay ahead. Axar Patel was included in the side, Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma were left out, Dhawal Kulkarni got his chance, but none of these moves left everybody as astounded as the exclusion of Rahane did. Ajinkya Rahane, the man who stroked his way to the Lord’s Honours Board with a splendid century just a year back, the man who was heralded as India’s new Mr. Dependable in the middle-order, now found himself at the receiving end of India’s sudden change of fortune.
In today’s era, when there exists a palpable dichotomy between Test cricket on the one hand, and the limited overs format on the other, there is an increasing perception that players carved out for a particular format are exclusive to that format itself and rather unsuited for the others. Ajinkya Rahane seems to have fallen victim to this newly emerging trend. Captain Dhoni justified the exclusion by saying that Rahane struggles on slower pitches while batting in the middle order, and highlighted his inability to rotate the strike while batting at 4 or 5. However, there seems to be a counter-argument that Rahane does deserve a longer rope, similar to what others got before they proved themselves.
In this regard, mention must be made of Ravindra Jadeja. That India are forced to persist with him repeatedly, summarizes the sorry state of affairs as far as team composition is concerned. The all-rounder’s form was a major concern in the World Cup, where he failed to contribute with both bat and ball, and that seems to have become a continuing trend. His selection reflects the complete lack of options in this department, as India are faced with a dearth of bowling all-rounders and players who can aid the spin department. Rookie Axar Patel has been tried occasionally, based on his exceptional show in the IPL, but he hasn’t shown much promise in the limited opportunities he has got. His average with the bat is as low as 6.83, and with 17 wickets in 14 ODI games, there isn’t much excitement about his prospects.
Mohammed Shami’s injury has added to India’s woes, and the bowling department looks lacklustre without his presence. Virat Kohli has had a rather ordinary season by his standards. MS Dhoni’s captaincy has come under fire, as India have slumped to two consecutive defeats against Bangladesh. There are doubts about this team, notwithstanding the fact that it was nearly the same side that ended up with a World Cup semi-final finish in its last ODI assignment. Under such circumstances, what should be the ideal Playing XI? And what is the way forward for Team India?
The team has a lot of hopes from Ravindra Jadeja, but in the event that he does not show a drastic improvement, there may be a need to draft in another spinner into the side. Jadeja has been left out of the Test squad, and Harbhajan Singh was recalled for the one-off test. Perhaps, the likes of Amit Mishra may get a look in when India play in the subcontinent.
India picked Ambati Rayudu ahead of Ajinkya Rahane as the former seemed a better bet at No. 4 in these conditions. MS Dhoni made it clear that there is no scope of having him open, as the openers look settled, and “Rahane will have to wait.” Asking Rohit to return to the middle-order is far too much of a risk at this stage. However, if Rahane is promoted up the order, Virat Kohli could bat at the No.4 position, a move that may pay off, as statistics show that the India vice-captain has done quite well at No. 4 too. One may argue that meddling with India’s most settled batsman may not be worthwhile, but it’s probably the only way India can hope to field their best XI.
It remains to be seen whether the side learns from its mistakes and is able to resurrect itself soon enough. For now, it seems like a tall order.