The making of India’s 2019 World cup team
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After the excitement and high drama of the Champions Trophy, India’s first two matches on the tour of the Caribbean have appeared soporific, some might argue even unnecessary. Apart from wanting to keep the West Indies Cricket Board on its side in the future, what is there to be gained, critics have asked.
For the record, India won the second of two matches played at Port of Spain last week without being extended at all. They were strongly placed in the first too till rain intervened. The series is still alive, but there is hardly any supporter in the Caribbean who believes a turnaround is possible.
The utter lack of competitiveness in the first two games suggests the remainder of the tour could become tediously one-sided: Unless, of course, the West Indies show a sudden and massive surge in skill, enthusiasm, form and ambition. How and who will trigger such change is impossible to identify given the performance so far.
Fact is the West Indies, Twenty20 World Cup winners last year, have been at sixes and sevens in the other formats. But while their stock in Test cricket had taken a plunge more than a decade ago, the slump in One Day Internationals (ODIs) is fairly recent, though no less acute and distressing for that.
Failure to even qualify for the Champions Trophy spoke of the crisis that riddles West Indies cricket. Worse, they even lost an ODI match to rookie side Afghanistan. And that too at home. The series was shared 1-1, but the gains were all for the visiting team, who have gone on since to be made full members of the International Cricket Council (ICC).
The proud and magnificent legacy of Caribbean cricket is in deep turmoil and there is no redemption in sight. Most teams visiting the West Indies now look for easy pickings (though Pakistan were given a surprisingly tough time recently), and India should be the new beneficiaries.
Yet these matches are not bereft of advantage for the Indian team. Winning matches helps build confidence and momentum. Equally important, with the 50-over World Cup just about two years away, these matches facilitate experimentation to hit upon the best combination that could play the tournament in 2019.
The nucleus of the team—15 who are in the West Indies currently, plus Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah, who have been rested—is well defined. There are about a dozen other players on the periphery of selection, in case those already in the squad suffer injury or loss of form.
For instance, Rahul Dravid has highlighted—correctly, given their age—that the onus will be on Yuvraj Singh and M.S. Dhoni to prove themselves almost continuously now.
But these veterans are not the only ones under scrutiny. There is a jostling for most places in the side.
For instance, Ajinkya Rahane’s fine century in the second match against the West Indies puts him back in contention for a regular place in the side. And since captain Virat Kohli believes he can be the “floater” the team needs, Rahane is a threat to every batsman in the top order.
Similarly, there are still no certainties in the bowling either. A few months ago, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav were spearheads. In the Champions Trophy, it was Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Bumrah. Among the slow bowlers, young wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav could well be ahead of either R. Ashwin or Ravindra Jadeja. Remember, the 2019 World Cup will be played in England.
All this actually reflects the strength and richness of talent in Indian cricket. But it also demands that all those in the fray be tried out, while putting pressure on the “regulars” to be on their toes against challenges from within.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.