Team India recently won the hard-fought final of Asia Cup against the much improved Bangladesh side. It was an excellent game of cricket with both teams had testing times throughout.
Ultimately, Team India held it nerves and won it at the last moment, thus lifting the Asia Cup for a record-extending seventh time. Although India, the top-ranked side among all the Asian teams, won the Asia Cup, there is still a huge room of improvement, which if not addressed quickly will turn out to be costly in 2019 WC.
With World Cup 2019 just eight months away Team India should learn from the mistakes committed in Asia Cup and work even harder before the mega cricketing event starts in the UK next year. Competing in World Cup is not going to be as easy as competing in the Asia Cup. English side, currently number one ODI side, is on the 'Rampaging' mode and is playing the most aggressive style of cricket.
Beating England on its home soil with the kind of cricket it is playing is not going to be easy. Apart from England, there are South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, which are far better sides than Team India played against in Asia Cup.
Captain Kohli and team management are trying each and every available player to form the best possible playing eleven for the World Cup. However, this is proving to be a very tough task in hand. Let's compare the possible playing eleven, which is going to represent India in World Cup in England next year to the playing eleven which lifted the 2011 World Cup held in sub-continent.
#1 Openers (Number 1, 2)
Indian Team which played in 2011 World Cup had quality openers in Tendulkar and Sehwag with one capable of rotating the strike and other capable of hard-hitting. In almost every match in 2011 WC, Sehwag provided the aggressive start needed to put pressure on opposition bowlers. Having a good opening partnership is the key to setting up a good total or while chasing a big total.
Both the openers were capable of switching the gears when necessary and play according to the situation. Just to add, Tendulkar-Sehwag opening pair was considered the best opening pair at that time. The two legends shared twelve 100-plus stands between them.
The most probable players to open for India in 2019 WC are Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan with KL Rahul in reserve. Both Sharma and Dhawan performed exceptionally well in recent past and with the form they are in, there exist no worries in the opening slot for Team India.
Both have the ability to hit daddy tons and are prolific run scorers for India in ODI format. Currently, Sharma-Dhawan opening pair is the best in the world and overall, second best for India. If any of the two openers are not available due to certain reason then India has another quality opener in KL Rahul in reserve who is an excellent slip fielder as well.
However, none of these three had been able to perform at later stages of major tournaments: semifinal (WC 2015) and final (Champions Trophy 2017 and Asia Cup 2018). This is the area of major concern for Men in Blue and should be addressed sooner.
# Middle Order (Number 3, 4, 5, 6)
India in 2011 WC had the services of experienced players like Gambhir, Yuvraj, and Raina with a young Kohli in the middle order. All four played a key role in different matches to lead India to WC title after 28 years in 2011. Gambhir had a reputation of performing in big matches: Final (WC T20 2008 and WC 2011). He scored a gutsy 97 in the WC final in 2011 which India won by six wickets. Man of the Series, Yuvraj Singh, was the top performer for India during that WC bailing India out through tough situation many-a-times, both with bat and ball. He was the lynchpin of the formidable batting line-up. Raina contributed with his all-round skills with exceptional fielding, part-time bowling and a quick cameo at the end of innings. Kohli, who used to bat at number four that time, forged a useful partnership with Gambhir in the final after the fall of two quick wickets. Overall, whole middle order played its part really well which resulted in the fruitful result.
The conundrum of the middle order of the current Indian Team is a hot topic among the cricketing pundits. Apart from Captain Kohli at number three, none of the other slots are permanent. Batting's 4, 5 and 6 has been a problem area for men in blue for past two years now. Many players like Karthik, Pandey, Jadhav, Pandya, Rahane, Jadeja and Pant are in the hunt to fill the three slots. The team has tried every possible player in the past year or so but none of them showed signs of maturity to fill those places. Hardik and Jadeja always give mixed feelings, with both yet to prove their worth in the side, which is looking for a quality all-rounder. They both had never been able to close games for India when needed and also perished against the quality bowling attack especially overseas. The replacement for Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, who used to finish games consistently and also provided a useful extra bowling option, is yet to be found. The search for a formidable middle-order combination has been a major problem for team management in recent years.
# Wicket-Keeper Batsman (Number 7)
India had 'Captain Cool' MS Dhoni as the wicket-keeper batsman in 2011 WC, who played a masterstroke in WC final by promoting himself up the order and cruised India towards the title. Exceptional batting skills along with quick hands behind the stumps made Dhoni, a must-have player in the side. His match awareness along with his calm and composed mind made him the best captain in the world.
However, a lot has been changed since then. Now Dhoni, who is not the captain of the side, has lost his ability to finish games with his stellar batting. Dhoni, once regarded as the best finisher of the world, now finds it difficult to close out a chase.
Although his wicket-keeping skills are still as good as they were a few years back with lightning-quick stumping, his hard-hitting skills have diminished. Mahi's average, as well as strike-rate, has dropped significantly over the past few years. India will need the services of Dhoni both as Wicket-keeper and batsman if they want to win WC next year. Mahi’s presence in the lower middle order is enough to give that much-needed confidence to the team.
#Bowlers (Number 8, 9, 10, 11)
India have always had a poor reputation of not producing quality pace bowling attack needed to dismantle opposition batsmen. However, India during 2011 WC was blessed with quality bowlers like Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, and Harbhajan Singh.
Zaheer Khan, being the marshal of the bowling troop, guided all the bowlers really well. He led the Indian fast bowling line-up which had inexperienced players like Sreesanth and Patel. Khan and Sreesanth used to provide early break-through to team with their exceptional swing bowling and line-and-length.
Patel's and Harbhajan's role was to contain the runs and provide wickets in the middle stages by building up the pressure by not leaking too many runs. They all played their roles really well and provided India with a decent bowling attack during that WC.
The current Indian bowling attack is well versed with quality swing bowlers, blended with best spin bowlers. This bowling attack is by far the best bowling attack India has produced ever with the likes of Bhumrah, Bhuvi, Umesh, Kuldeep and Chahal.
Bhumrah, topper of the bowling ranking in ODI, has proved why he is the best in the world with his deceptive slower-balls and yorkers. Everything is going perfectly for Indian bowlers with fast bowlers providing early breaks with spin bowlers providing all useful wickets in the middle order.
If Team India needs to win the World Cup then it should be now as other teams have not fared as good as them in recent years. Apart from England, none of the teams had shown any zeal to perform and had perished against team India in ODIs.
With the best opening pair, quality bowlers and Captain Kohli in the team, this is the best possible chance for India to win the World Cup. They have to fix their missing pieces in the middle order as soon as possible and if that happens nothing can stop “Men in Blue” from winning the cup.