05.07.2019 Author: C.NAMASIVAYAMThe three teams who have already qualified for the semi-finals of World Cup 2019 are India, Australia, and England. New Zealand will be the fourth team to join the race since Pakistan’s mathematical chances of brushing aside New Zealand are improbable.
By securing the top two spots, India has conveniently stayed away from the defending champion Australia. India will either meet England or New Zealand in the semi-finals depending upon the outcome of the two matches that will be played on Saturday, the 6th July 2019.
The one team which defied pre-tournament predictions by its pathetic performance was South Africa. While Pakistan and West Indies as always remained the dark horses in this ICC tournament too, nothing dramatic was expected from the Asian teams Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan in English conditions.
Moving forward, India has 5 major concerns to address before the knockout games.
#1. The brittle middle-orderThis Indian team is thriving on the firepower at the top of the batting order. In the absence of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma took it upon himself to score all the runs at the top. He is now the top run scorer of this World Cup having scored 544 runs including 4 hundred. Virat Kohli is not far behind with 408 aggregate runs.
The biggest disappointment has been the Indian middle order where MS Dhoni(223 runs), Kedar Jadhav(80) and Vijay Shankar(58) struggled right through the tournament. The team management has further complicated the matter by opting to replace the injured middle-order batsman Vijay Shankar with a rookie opener in Mayank Agarwal. The selection of either one of the experienced middle-order batsmen Ambati Rayadu or an Ajinkya Rahane could have shore up the brittle middle-order.
The only saving grace for India in the middle order has been the performance of Hardik Pandya who was quite fluent in scoring 187 runs at a strike rate of 138. The induction of Rishabh Pant at No 4 has brought about a refreshing change in the approach of the middle order but the seniors should come to the party for India.
#2. The lack of firepower in the death oversIndia has only Hardik Pandya to up the ante in the slog overs. The lack of intent from MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav and the absence of a player like a Ravindra Jadeja in the late order have influenced India’s run rate in the last 10 overs.
At the start of the tournament, India had a better run rate in the last 10 overs having scored 59 in 7.3 overs against South Africa while chasing. The runs scored in the last 10 overs picked up pace against Australia(116), Pakistan(88) and the West Indies(82).
But due to the slow nature of wickets and the lack of intent from the Indian middle-order, India could only score 49 against Afghanistan, 72 against England and 63 against Bangladesh in the last 10 overs.
Coincidentally, India had 6 wickets in hand in all these 3 matches going into the last 10 overs. But for some strange reasons they could not accelerate in the last 10 overs even with plenty of wickets in hand. This inefficacy could haunt India in the knockout games.
#3. The ineffectiveness of the wrist-spinnersKuldeep Yadav has been a disappointment so far in the tournament. Though he has a better economy rate of 4.89, he could take only 5 wickets in his 57 overs. Kuldeep went wicketless in 2 of the 5 matches he played.
His wrist spin partner Yuzvendra Chahal had taken 11 wickets but at a higher economy of 5.92. He had the dubious distinction of recording the most expensive spell by an Indian bowler in a World Cup when he conceded 88 runs against England.
The collective failure of the wrist-spinners is a cause for concern for India.
#4.The absence of the sixth bowling option All the teams who have reached the semi-finals have 6 regular bowlers except for India. The presence of 3 wicket-keepers in the playing XI hasn’t helped India’s cause. If one were to compare this Indian team with the World Cup winning team of 2011, that team had Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, and Suresh Raina as the part-time spinners.
This weakness of India will be fully exploited by the much stronger teams in the semi-finals. Perhaps it is time now for India to accommodate Ravindra Jadeja in the playing XI in place of Dinesh Karthik. Jadeja is the "bits-and-pieces " cricketer who could bring in the much-needed balance to this Indian team.
#5. The lack of opportunities and apprehensions in chasing down targetsIndia had batted second only twice in this tournament. They could win their first match against South Africa batting second. Thereafter, India was required to chase only in their seventh match against England which they lost without putting up a fight. The used wickets in England have slowed down considerably in the last week.
Against this background, all the four teams in the fray would be looking forward to winning the toss and bat first and India is no exception to that. New Zealand lost their last 2 matches where they had to chase. England won their last two matches conveniently after electing to bat first.
Compared to the other teams, the pressure will be more on India to win the toss and bat first since they have not been exposed a great deal chasing targets in this tournament. India’s apprehension in chasing down targets confidently should not come in the way of the team’s chances.
To sum up, the Indian Captain and the team management are aware of the problems faced by the team going into the knockout stages of the tournament. To be fair, the tough format of this tournament has ensured that no team is perfect. The team that could minimize and overcome its weaknesses at this crucial stage of the tournament would be the eventual champion. Let us hope that team be our Men in Blue.