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2019 World Cup preview: India – One of the favourites but the much debated “Number 4” remains a concern

India has the best batting lineup but the middle order remains a concern. Could that hurt in the tournament? An analysis of what options team India has to tackle this problem.

India is one of the favourites going into the showpiece event of world cricket in England, and for very good reasons. They have the most successful opening pair in world cricket right now, they have the best batsman in the world, one of the best finishers in the game’s history, they have the best fast bowler in the world, and they have an exciting spin duo that can deliver wickets during the crucial middle overs of an innings.

However, despite having most bases covered, one area for concern that remains with this Indian side is the middle order, the butt of long running jokes on Social Media. Since the Champions Trophy final defeat in June 2017, India tried a number of batsmen at the number 4 spot before deciding on KL Rahul and Vijay Shankar as the 2 options for this World Cup. Between them, they have played 23 ODIs with limited success, Rahul averages 13 at Number 4 in his 3 games there while Shankar has batted 5 times in total in ODIs, none of them at Number 4, where he will be expected to slot in if he makes it to the playing XI ahead of Rahul.

MS Dhoni at 5 seems to be gaining some of his old form back this year after a lean 2018. He is averaging 82 in ODIs this year, though with a much lower strike rate than his career numbers. However, as he showed during the IPL, he can still bring out the big hits at the death when required. India will be hoping desperately that he continues in that rich vein of form for another 6 weeks.

Happily for India, Kedar Jadhav has been declared fit for the World Cup. Jadhav is a crucial component of this team structure, being the only batsman among Indian 4-5-6 who can score at a 100+ strike rate right from the start, and his strange bowling provides a valuable option to the Captain during the middle stages. Whether he remains injury free for the entirety of the tournament remains a big question mark as he doesn’t have a great fitness record till now.

The premier Indian all-rounder, Hardik Pandya’s form in the IPL must have been so heart-warming for the team management. After a rough start to the year when his career went into a limbo thanks to a Koffee With Karan episode, Pandya has made a strong comeback for the national team followed by some breath-taking performances in the IPL on the way to the title.

In the bowling department, India boasts of one of the best bowling line-ups in this World Cup spearheaded by World’s Number 1 bowler Jasprit Bumrah. The spin twins Kuldeep and Chahal have been irresistible since they came together for India and have almost always delivered wickets when the Captain needed. Mohammed Shami has been in great form recently, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, after a lean 2018, has been showing signs of returning to form, though you expect Shami to get into the XI ahead of him on current form.

One would back India to be in the Semi-finals at the end of the round robin league with the quality that they have in their ranks. However, at the back-end of the tournament, much will depend on the form of the top 3 if they have to win the whole thing. If 2 out of the top 3 click, nothing is impossible for this side as they have shown repeatedly over the last few years.

India’s squad: Virat Kohli (Captain), Rohit Sharma (vice-captain), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Vijay Shankar, MS Dhoni (wicket-keeper), Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami

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Sandeep Kadian
Sports, Satire, Politics, Golgappa.

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