Team India named their 15-member squad for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 to be played at home from October 5 to November 19 earlier this month. There were not too many surprises in the Rohit Sharma-led squad, which is, on expected lines, very similar to the one picked for the Asia Cup. Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, and Mohammed Siraj were more or less automatic choices. Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul, Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav, Axar Patel, and Shardul Thakur staved off some stiff competition to get the nod in the 15-member team ahead of a few others.
The Men in Blue do not have a lot of games left ahead of their first World Cup, which will be a tough one against five-time world champions Australia. After the Asia Cup, they will feature in a three-match ODI series against the Aussies at home. It’s thus an apt time to analyze whether Team India’s preparations for the mega event are on the right track and the areas of improvement that captain Rohit, coach Rahul Dravid, and the entire team management need to work on.
Rohit Sharma’s form a big boost
First things first, skipper Rohit’s sublime form is great news for Team India ahead of the World Cup. The Indian captain has been under a bit of pressure to perform ever since taking over full-time leadership. The man himself will be the first person to admit that his performances have not always been up to the mark. However, things have been rather optimistic in recent times regarding his batting.
Since the start of 2023, he has played 13 ODI innings, scoring 577 runs at an average of 52.45. During this phase, Rohit has crossed the three-figure mark once and has five half-centuries to his name – three of them in consecutive games during the Asia Cup. The 36-year-old had a stupendous 2019 World Cup in England, notching up five hundreds. India will also be hoping for some big performances from their leader in the upcoming World Cup.
Kohli is the key, but Gill’s inconsistency and Shreyas’ injury are a worry
Besides Rohit, another senior batter, Virat Kohli, will be equally crucial to India’s fortunes in the ODI World Cup, perhaps even more. The 34-year-old has enjoyed a purple patch in white ball cricket even since overcoming his long-run drought in international cricket. Since the start of 2023, Kohli has played 12 one-day knocks and smashed three hundreds. He has scored 556 runs at an average of 55.60 and has looked pretty much back to his best in the format he seems to enjoy the most.
However, if we remove Kohli and Rohit, there are a couple of issues for India in the batting department. Shubman Gill has not been the same since the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2023. There have been games in which he has scored big runs, but there have also been phases where he has looked completely out of sorts and has fallen to soft dismissals, which doesn’t augur well with the World Cup just days away.
The fitness issues with Shreyas Iyer are another major cause of concern. When available, the right-handed batter has been an asset for the team in one-day cricket. However, he has been more out than in the group over the last few months owing to his back issues. Having made a comeback for the Asia Cup after a rehabilitation program at the National Cricket Academy (NCA), Shreyas picked up back spasms ahead of the Super 4 match against Pakistan. His continued fitness troubles will jeopardize India over his World Cup spot. Teams have till September 28 to modify their squads, after which any change will require an ICC sanction. It remains to be seen how India deal with the tricky Shreyas puzzle.
KL’s impressive return, Kishan’s big statement, SKY’s unpredictability
The injury to Shreyas gave KL Rahul an opportunity to push his case on a comeback, and the latter grabbed the chance with both hands. He struck a sublime hundred against Pakistan in the Asia Cup Super 4 match and followed it up with a fluent 39 on a tricky spinning surface against Sri Lanka in Colombo. Like Shreyas, there were question marks over Rahul’s form and fitness since he was also returning from a layoff. However, Rahul looked in great touch not only with the bat but behind the stumps as well. He is set to don the gloves in the World Cup, although the move comes with risks. Overall, the team management will be extremely pleased with his comeback.
Ishan Kishan, the other keeper-batter, has been excellent with the willow in one-day cricket. He has shown very good consistency, and his knock under pressure in the group game against Pakistan in the Asia Cup was a clear sign of his maturity. On the other hand, the decision to retain Suryakumar Yadav in the ODI squad for the World Cup is debatable. He has a terrific T20I record but has been abysmal in one-dayers, where he is still trying to find his feet. India are expecting him to be the joker in the pack, but it’s a move that’s clearly like a double-edged sword.
Strong in pace, but can Axar support Kuldeep, Jadeja?
With the return of Bumrah, India look strong in the pace department. Siraj and Shami had been carrying the bowling on their shoulders in Bumrah’s absence. Hardik Pandya’s bowling rhythm in the Asia Cup – bowling at 140 kmph – is also a positive sign for India heading to the World Cup. However, the decision to drop seasoned leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal is as debatable as the one to pick SKY. Of course, it’s very clear that Chahal has paid the price for India’s thought process of preferring batting depth over pure bowling skills. This is precisely why pace-bowling all-rounder Thakur and left-arm spinning all-rounder Axar are in the team. The big decision could have a far-reaching impact – to the extent of making or breaking India’s World Cup campaign.