The Indian cricket team has begun 2023 in one-dayers on a brilliant note. They first hammered Sri Lanka 3-0 at home in a three-match series and subsequently inflicted a whitewash on New Zealand by the same margin. While the Men in Blue have made a great start in the ODI World Cup year, which will be played at home towards the second half of 2023, one cannot read too much into the performances. In the past, India have also been exceptional in bilateral series but failed to translate the form into success in big ICC tournaments. As Team India builds up to the upcoming one-day World Cup, we analyze five challenges in front of the hosts.
1. Where to fit in Ishan Kishan?
Very few countries can afford to leave out a guy who has notched up the fastest men’s ODI double hundred in their next match. India did that, backing Shubman Gill over Ishan Kishan for the Sri Lanka series. Gill, of course, has repaid the management’s faith, smashing three hundreds in his last four ODI innings. The stats include a belligerent double hundred as well. Skipper Rohit Sharma also seems to have rediscovered his form with the willow, even notching up his first one-day hundred in over 1000 days against New Zealand.
If Rohit and Gill maintain their form and fitness, they seem set to be India’s openers at the ODI World Cup. However, it would be tough to leave out Ishan Kishan, given the kind of explosive talent that he is. India have tried him in the middle-order in KL Rahul’s absence. However, he looked totally out of sorts against New Zealand. With Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer and Rahul occupying the middle-order slots, the management will have a tough task if we want to fit in Kishan.
2. How long can India persist with SKY in ODIs?
Suryakumar Yadav has been absolutely exceptional in T20Is. His record in the format speaks for itself – 1578 runs in 45 matches at an average of 46.41 and a superb strike rate of 180.34, with three hundreds and 13 fifties. However, the 32-year-old batter’s ODI career is going in the completely opposite direction for now. In 20 one-dayers, he has scored 433 runs at an average of 28.86 and a strike rate of 102.85, with two half-centuries.
SKY, in fact, began reasonably well in his one-day career as well. In his first six innings, he registered scores of 31*, 53, 40, 39, 34* and 64. Since then, though, things have gone completely downhill for Suryakumar in the 50-over format. In his last 12 innings in ODIs, he has the highest score of 34*. On six of those 12 occasions, he has been dismissed in single-figure scores. While Suryakumar is undoubtedly a dangerous batter, the big question is – how can India keep backing him, especially in a World Cup year?
3. The injury list
This is a massive concern for India. It has been a while since lead pacer Jasprit Bumrah has played a game for India due to his recurring problems with a back injury. And although the World Cup is still a fair way away, his fitness is a big question mark. Will he be able to pull through? How will his workload be managed? Will India risk him in the IPL if he is declared fit?
There are a few others on the injury list as well. All-rounder Deepak Chahar has been constantly in and out of the team due to fitness issues lately. His fragile body has been unable to withstand the challenges of white-ball cricket beyond a couple of matches lately. Fast bowler Prasidh Krishna, who has promised such a lot, hasn’t been seen in action since the Zimbabwe tour in August last. BCCI may have reintroduced the yo-yo test, but they must get to the bottom of Team India’s injury woes.
4. What happens to Axar Patel when Ravindra Jadeja returns?
All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja is all set to make his India comeback during the Border-Gavaskar Trophy Test series against Australia. Having been out of action since the Asia Cup in the UAE last year, where he picked up a freak knee injury, Jadeja has returned to the cricket field and is captaining Saurashtra in the Ranji Trophy match against Tamil Nadu. Before being ruled out, Jadeja was the first-choice spin-bowling all-rounder in the Indian team across all formats of the game.
As such, he is expected to claim his place back in the team once he is declared fit for international cricket. And he most probably will. But where does that leave Axar Patel? Barring the T20 World Cup in Australia, where conditions were unsuitable for his style of bowling, the resilient cricket has delivered with both bat and ball across the game’s three formats. Some of his performances would even make Rockstar Jadeja proud. But only one of the two can fit into the playing XI.
5. The third seamer question
Like Axar vs Jadeja, there is a similar quandary in the pace-bowling department. While Mohammed Siraj seems to have sealed one of the main slots, Bumrah will fit in as the lead pacer if he is declared good to go. Else India might shift attention to Mohammed Shami again. But when it comes to the third seamer option for the World Cup, it could boil down to Umran Malik vs Shardul Thakur.
While Umran has that extra pace and the X factor, Thakur has the experience and the ability to deliver under pressure. He also has a knack for picking big wickets. He can contribute with the bat at No. 8 and score crucial runs. Umran and Thakur can be extremely expensive on a given day – one due to his excess pace and the other due to the lack of it. But they can be match-winners as well. It will be a tough choice between the two.