When Ramesh Srivats and I were chatting over beer the other day, some questions about the team composition came up and Ramesh brought up two names: Rahane, and Harbhajan. The chat continued for another three hours after they turned the cameras off, and at some point the question of use of resources came up.
At what point in a league do you cut your losses and make changes? Ramesh’s point was that if changes had to be made, it should be for the game against Bangladesh, so there would be an opportunity to test the reserves out before what was clearly going to be a crunch game against Australia.
Didn’t happen. Or, as Ramesh put it:
Beggar to Dhoni: Sir, do you have any change.
Dhoni: No. Same 11.
— Ramesh Srivats (@rameshsrivats) March 23, 2016
And as it turned out, the issues that led Ramesh to ask whether this was the best 11 only got underlined in that game. Three names came up in our chat. This is how they have performed thus far:
Hardik Pandya: 1-0-10-0 against New Zealand (out of a total score of 126). 2-0-25-1 against Pakistan (out of a total score of 118). 2-0-29-2 against Bangaldesh (and it is worth remembering that before two hard-hitting, in-form batsmen had a brain fade, his analysis was 2.3-0-29-0).
Pandya is a hit-the-deck kind of bowler who may come off on harder, more responsive wickets — he had a decent record coming into this tournament, and his hitting ability adds to his utility. But in this WC, the curators’ emphasis, particularly for India games, has been to prepare slow turners, and on such tracks his bowling sits up and begs.
Shikhar Dawan: 1 run off 3 balls against New Zealand. 6 off 15 against Pakistan. 23 off 22 against Bangladesh (and even here, at the end of the power play overs it was 15 off 17 — that is to say, Dhawan had used up more than half of the power play to score just 15).
Dhawan has had some good knocks in the past, but through the course of this tournament he has struggled to get the ball off the square. What’s more, bowlers appear to have worked out that he can be cramped on that tight line around off, or by angling it in off a shorter length. Denied room to slash, he has been unable to either get the team off to a good start in the powerplays, or even to roll the strike over so Rohit Sharma can do the hitting. Result — slow starts that put enormous pressure on the middle order, in a format where you have only 15 overs after the power plays to undo any damage.
Yuvraj Singh: 4 off 5 versus New Zealand; 24 off 22 against Pakistan; 3 off 6 against Bangladesh.
The numbers speak for themselves. Yuvraj was very much a sentimental, rather than sensible, choice for this World Cup, and his outings thus far have indicated that his strength of arm and quickness of eye are history. Add to it the fact that for some reason his captain shies away from giving him the ball, and his utility is further reduced.
Can you have three identifiable weak spots when going into the must-win game Sunday against Oz? Ramesh that day argued in favor of a couple of changes — and the game against Bangladesh suggests that change is needed.
Rahane for Dhawan is a straight swap. For all that he gets a bad name as a slow-scorer, the man is no slouch — when he has gotten the chance to play, even without a fixed position, he has aggregated 324 runs from 17 games with a strike rate of 113.6 and average of 20.25. Compare that with Dhawan: 21 matches, 403 runs at 113.5 and average 21.21. Nothing in it either way, so the swap is purely on the lack of form of the incumbent opener.
Bajji coming in for the final league game against a super-strong batting side makes sense from a bowling point of view: India will then go in with four regular bowlers plus Jadeja who always bowls out his spell and is thus a ‘regular’ in this format. Ideally, you don’t even need non-regular overs — and if you do, there is Raina plus either Pandya or Yuvraj, depending on the swap.
I opted for Yuvraj over Pandya only because the Aussie quicks give him pace to work with, and he is thus more likely to play a few pressure-releasing slots. The prospect of Pandya bowling to the likes of Warner, Maxwell, Watson and Faulkner in the middle is frankly scary — two overs of that stuff can put the game entirely out of our reach.
My team for Sunday, picking from the selected 15: Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravi Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Bumrah and Nehra.
PS: Ramesh and I are back in the studio Monday, to chat about India’s league phase, and look ahead to the semis and finals (where, fingers crossed, we hope India will figure). If you have questions for us, send to firstname.lastname@example.org