India have been one of the best ODI sides in the last few years. In the last 12 months, no team have won more games than the Men in Blue. The Virat Kohli-led side have played 21 games, winning 15, losing five, with one game ending in a tie. India's W/L ratio of 3.000 is even better than the present no.1 ODI side in the world, England (2.800).
India also ended up as the runners-up in the 2017 Champions Trophy. India's top-order is perhaps, the best in the world. You won't find a better spin duo than that of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. India's pace attack is also great with Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the ranks.
The only problem lies with the "middle-order." Well, this is what the general perception is in the minds of the people. While there's not even an iota of doubt that India's middle-order woes are a big concern, there's another thing that has escaped people's attention, largely.
We are talking about India's pace battery. India have an enormously talented pool of pacers, these days. But that is only for Test cricket, where the likes of Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar, Umesh, Ishant, and Shami are some of the illustrious names.
But, when it comes to ODIs, the list narrows down to just Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. And that can be a major concern for India.
Let's take a look at how Indian pacers have fared in the last 12 months:
Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Hardik Pandya have been regular in India's team. Pandya plays as an all-rounder. When it comes to players who are playing primarily as pacers, only Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar have been trusted by the Indian team. And they have taken 26 and 16 wickets respectively. But other them and Pandya, India have tried as many as five pacers. But they have been largely unimpressive, barring Khaleel Ahmed to some extent, in what little we have seen of them. And that can be a major worry for India.
Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar, Chahal, and Kuldeep are the big four of the Indian bowling. Since the departure of Ashwin and Jadeja and the emergence of the wrist-spinners, India's bowling has become exceptional from being good. In fact, India's bowling has turned out to be team's major strength and has even bailed the team out of pressure situations, many a time, which is very unlike Indian cricket.
Bumrah and Bhuvi are part of all the formats and that makes them highly vulnerable. Kuldeep and Chahal are mainly playing limited-overs cricket, with the former slowly trying to become a permanent fixture in Tests. Also the fact that both Bhuvi and Bumrah are pacers, it puts them to greater risks of injury than the spin duo.
So, what after Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar? That's the question? India clearly lacks gun backup options to them, unlike in Tests. India have lost only one bilateral ODI series in the last 12 months and that came in England when Bumrah missed the whole series and Bhuvi played just one game, that too without attaining full fitness, which meant he was playing, but just not quite up there.
In the table below one can see the difference between Indian pace and spin bowling in the three-match ODI series against England.
It is largely owing to the fact that Bhuvi and Bumrah weren't playing together.
In Asia Cup, the big four (Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar, Chahal, and Kuldeep) was back and that too with vengeance. India's bowling was exceptional and pace bowling was back to its best.
But what if just like the England ODIs, both or one of them gets injured in close proximity to the World Cup or during the mega-event? India's backup pace options don't even come remotely close to both. Bhuvi and Bumrah are good with the newball and quite excellent in the fag end.
The skill-set required to do well in white-ball cricket is very difficult to attain. And in India, apart from Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar, there’s not much promise, which is not at all, rosy signs for the Men in Blue.
Both the main Indian pacers have been rested for the Windies ODIs. And not only India's middle-order, but how the pace bowling does would also be crucial given the fact that it can cost India big time like in the England ODIs, if they don't quite develop quality back-ups to Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah.