LIVERPOOL: When India elected to bat against Bangladesh on a flat Edgabaston track with one side of the boundary significantly shorter than the other, a huge total looked a real possibility. The 180-run opening stand between Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul added fuel to the hopes. But after Rohit’s dismissal, all India could add was 134 runs losing nine wickets in the remaining 20 overs as they stuttered to 314.
The frailty of India’s middle-order stands out like a sore thumb as the World Cup moves into the all-important knockout stage. The muddle was first exposed against Afghanistan and the game against Bangladesh only amplified the issue. India still have a chance to plug the holes, against Sri Lanka in their final league game at Headingly on Saturday, before they take on one of the big guns in the semifinals.
The focus was on No.4 when India began their Cup campaign. After K.L. Rahul who had to move up the order following Shikhar Dhawan’s injury, Vijay Shankar batted at No.4, but again the spot proved to be a revolving door with Rishabh Pant coming in place of the injured all-rounder.
Pant seems to have sealed the spot as India batting coach Sanjay Bangar said the left-handed batsman’s presence in the middle upsets the bowling plans. “The team management had been feeling the absence of a left-handed batsman after Shikhar was injured. It was a ploy to use the right-left combination in the middle overs. We are trying to help him with the roles that come with the middle-order job,” said Bangar.
Former Aussie skipper Michael Clarke believes Pant at No.4 gives India the much-needed power. “Even if he bats badly, he is going to strike at 100. If he strikes well, he is going to strike at 140 and 150. I think that helps Indian middle-order on good wickets,” Clarke was quoted as saying.
Dhoni is the fulcrum of India’s middle-order. He absorbs pressure, takes time to settle down and gives stability. But he has been found wanting in accelerating the run-rate which proved decisive in the game against England while chasing.
The team management seems to be flexible with Hardik Pandya’s order, but his main role is to accelerate the scoring. “He could go in at 30th over and start cracking big shots straightaway. If not, he can also do it towards the end, as he did against West Indies,” said Bangar.
In the last match, Dinesh Karthik replaced Kedar Jadhav at No.7 and Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s return added depth to India’s batting. If the length of the tail is too long, it does play in the minds of Indian middle-order.
Having Karthik batting below Dhoni should give him confidence and freedom to go after the bowlers early. “Rather than leaving it for the last 5-6 overs, middle-order could start attacking early if they get assured that someone like Bhuvi would handle it later,” said Bangar....