MUMBAI: India’s six-wicket defeat to the West Indies in the second ODI at Bridgetown, Barbados on Saturday-their first at the hands of Windies since 2019- shouldn’t set the alarm bells ringing.
The visitors, after all, were trying out a few players ahead of the ODI World Cup against a severely weak team which hasn’t even qualified for the ODI World Cup, but the way they have gone about experimenting with their batting line-up in the first two matches is a cause for debate.
In the first ODI, skipper Rohit Sharma came to bat at No 7-the first time he has batted as low as that since 2011. Ex-captain Virat Kohli didn’t even bat. Both were rested from the second ODI and more curiously, all-rounder Axar Patel walked in at No 4.
While it remains to be seen if Rohit and Virat return for the decider, their near absence from the middle begs the million dollar question: if the idea was to try out a few younger players, why was the star duo picked for the ODI series in the Caribbean in the first place? Also, is it a good idea to experiment so much with your line-up so close to the ODI World Cup-in India in October/November?
If the idea is to give game time and the confidence of runs under the belt to the other batsmen in the squad, even Rohit, who seems to have just found form in the two-Test series, where he scored a hundred and two fifties, but has struggled in ODIs, needed it.
In the first ODI, India, surprisingly, chose to bowl first. If the idea was to get some useful batting practice while chasing, it backfired spectacularly as West Indies were skittled out for merely 114 in 23 overs on a tricky turner.
A former national selector that TOI spoke too wasn’t too enthused with the way the Indian team management has gone about juggling their players for each match of this ODI series.
“Firstly, if you wanted to play a comparatively younger team in this ODI series, then Rohit and Virat should not have been picked for it. Secondly, the West Indies have not even qualified for the World Cup. So it doesn’t matter if Rohit and Virat play in this series or not. This series is irrelevant. So, the selectors should have thought about sending a young team to see how the players cope with the pressure of international cricket. This was the perfect time to identify a young captain too,” said former India left-arm spinner Sunil Joshi.
“Rohit & Virat played the first ODI, didn’t play in the second match, and now, with the series on the line, they’ll obviously return for the series-decider. I don’t get the point of all this,” he added.
Joshi, in fact, feels that the selectors could’ve picked an experienced campaigner like Shikhar Dhawan for this series purely with a view to develop a back-up opener for the World Cup.
“Just look at Dhawan’s numbers in white-ball cricket. He’ll always be an asset in the ODI format, especially in India. His experience and fabulous record in the ICC tournaments shouldn’t be ignored. During my tenure with the national selection committee, we would always back Dhawan as a back-up opener in white-ball cricket, and this why we asked him to lead the Indian team in 2021 in Sri Lanka too. To ensure that Dhawan gets into some decent form ahead of the World Cup, he should have been sent for the ODI series,” felt Joshi.
“It happened during the T20 World Cup in Australia last year. When (Jasprit) Bumrah was out injured, we were forced to pick (Mohammed) Shami, purely because of the latter’s class and experience. Instead of bringing back Dhawan at the last-minute in case you need him, it’s better to give him some ODIs under his belt,” he recommended.
It was also baffling to see that despite experimenting so much with their batting line-up, the team management didn’t try out opener Ruturaj Gaikwad, despite the batsman being a prolific run-getter in the Vijay Hazare One-dayers for Maharashtra. Picked for the Tests too, Gaikwad hasn’t got a single game on what has turned to be a tour which promised much but delivered little for him. “If you are already trying out so many players, who don’t you give him a chance,” wondered Joshi.
The Indian team management’s experimentation policy has its backers too. Former India seamer and ex-national selector Harvinder Singh told this paper, “If you don’t experiment against this West Indies team now, you won’t get the time to do that later, as the ODI World Cup is approaching fast. With this approach, after this series, you’ll get clarity about your pool of players for the World Cup. If you see, someone like Sanju Samson was sent at No 3, which was such a good opportunity for him considering he doesn’t get too many chances.
“Ishan Kishan has made use of the chances that he’s got in this series, while Shubman Gill and Suryakumar Yadav have an opportunity to get among the runs.”