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Focus has to be on cricket after Kumble’s sore exit

India needs to address their middle order as well as their spin department in the West Indies series in order to prepare well for the World Cup in 2019.

Team India
Team India. (Photo by Matthew Lewis-IDI/IDI via Getty Images)

Anil Kumble and Virat Kohli have made headlines for the wrong reasons in the last few days. Kumble handed in his resignation on Tuesday after a brief meeting with the CAC in the UK and termed his relationship with the captain as untenable. There have been plenty of things said and written in the media about this ugly incident.

With the big loss against Pakistan in the finals of the Champions Trophy preceding Kumble’s exit, Team India is not in the right frame of mind going into the West Indies series which begin on Friday. Though West Indies is not in the top 8 ranked ODI teams these days, which is why they couldn’t take part in the Champions Trophy, they can offer stern competition especially playing at home. Virat Kohli has been at the forefront of the controversy and has faced the wrath of a lot of former cricketers including Sunil Gavaskar.

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Team must move forward quickly

The Anil Kumble saga needs to be put behind now. Whatever happened cannot be overturned though the situation could have been handled better. The hunt for the right candidate to succeed Anil Kumble is on and the team should get a new coach before the Sri Lanka tour in late July. Kohli needs to motivate his troops and put the focus back on cricket. MV Sridhar will supervise the team during the Caribbean tour and has a job in his hands. The performance of the side will be under immense scrutiny during the series which puts pressure on the players to be sharp and produce the right results.

Kohli in partnership with the next coach must start building a team for the World Cup in 2019, which is less than 24 months away. The process must begin right away and the series in West Indies could be a stepping stone towards it. Selection of Rishabh Pant is hailed by a lot of experts and it is high-time he gets an opportunity. With Rohit Sharma being rested for the series, Pant might get his chance at the top of the order. Dinesh Karthik, after having a tremendous season in the 50-over domestic competition where he helped Tamil Nadu to lift two titles on the back of centuries in both finals, might also get his chance during this series. He sat out the entire time in England despite getting an attractive 94* in a warm-up fixture.

Yuvraj-Dhoni under scrutiny

The pressure on the likes of MS Dhoni and Yuvraj is immense. Both have been stalwarts of Indian limited overs cricket for more than a decade now but find themselves in a peculiar situation as the focus from now on will be at the World Cup when both players will be 37. They haven’t performed poorly, make no mistake but a call on their future has to be taken now.

Both scored crucial half-centuries in a game each in the Champions Trophy and did not get too many opportunities to bat as the top order was making the bulk of runs. Recently, former India cricketer Ajit Agarkar raised questions on the duo and even Dravid, who minces his words in such situations, wanted India to look at replacements and then see how they fare against these experienced players.

The concern with these batsmen is that they have not been as consistent as they were in their pomp. Both tend to take their time at the start of an innings which puts pressure on the team as No. 4 and 5 are very significant positions in ODI cricket. The top order did a stupendous job in England but they can’t do it in every game. At these batting positions, a batsman must settle into an innings almost instantly.

Someone like Kedar Jadhav, who was slotted to bat at No. 6 in the Champions Trophy but got just one full-fledged opportunity to bat in 5 games, can do a job at No. 4. He is an enterprising batsman who picks singles at will and gets smoothly into his innings very quickly. Dhoni used to be a master of that in the yesteryears. But of late he has struggled to get the ball off the square initially. He does catch up during the end of his innings but on days when he gets out before the final flourish, it really pegs the team back.

Having said that, Dhoni still is an asset to the Indian team. He is one of the fittest cricketers in the side still and is the best in the world behind the wickets. He can still do a job at No.5 or, perhaps, 6. Yuvraj and Dhoni can’t bat at consecutive positions going forward and Kohli needs to recognise that. Yuvraj, of course, made a memorable comeback into the ODI set up in January this year.

He hit a career-best 150 in only his second game after spending 4 years in the wilderness. The southpaw has always been a very capable ODI player but now, the combination of the side is being affected ever so slightly. He can produce moments of brilliance with the bat which follows a barren run. Kohli has to make that call whether he wants someone like Yuvraj in the side long term.

Possible options for middle order

The batting cupboard of India is not bare by any stretch of the imagination. Pant is very promising, Karthik has scored runs very consistently, Manish Pandey won a game in Sydney by his own, Jadhav has proved his mettle playing breathtaking knocks earlier this year, Ambati Rayudu averages 50 in limited opportunities he got in the ODI team and the likes of Shreyas Iyer, Sanju Samson and a few upcoming youngsters can be given an opportunity every now and again.

The advent of Hardik Pandya is very heartening to see for Indian fans. He is someone who can bowl quick, fields exceptionally well and has huge potential with the bat. India must not only see him as a lower middle order dasher. He has a good technique and a tight defence to play higher up the order. If India grooms him well, he can become a world beater.

There are plenty of questions that need to be answered soon. Logically, only Dhoni looks like going the distance till the World Cup due to his impeccable fitness. Yuvraj in the field cannot contribute much as he is a slow mover. Of late, he has become more like a hit or miss with the bat. He can get you home on his own on his day but unfortunately, those days are few and far.

All eyes on Kuldeep Yadav after failure of Jadeja-Ashwin in CT

The pace battery of India looks great and the best in a lot of years. The spin department is another concern which needs to be addressed. The performances of Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja weren’t up to the mark in England recently. Given that the World Cup is in England, India must start looking for other options, particularly wrist spinning options.

The two names that spring to mind are Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. The former is already in the squad to play this series. Chahal, despite getting a 6-wicket haul in his last T20 game for India isn’t in the side. India needs to invest in wrist spinners for the new ODI rules of having 5 fielders in the ring between overs 15-40 is hurting finger spinners. Both Ashwin and Jadeja’s main motive in the tournament was to restrict the run scoring hence they bowled too flat and were even easier to score off.

These are the imminent big decisions that Kohli and the team management have to take very soon. For now, they can give as many possible opportunities to Pant in the series and see how he goes about his business at the international level. The pressure will be colossal post the entire Kumble-Kohli rift and even a minor blip would draw flak.

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