It’s been nearly a decade since India won a major ICC world championship title. With the exception of the T20 World Cup in 2021, the men in blue have performed consistently in the group stages only to succumb under pressure during vital knockouts.
While many blame it on the team’s ‘choking’ nature under pressure, others credit bad team selection and the resultant inefficiency. Cautious of this potential criticism, the selection committee is busy experimenting with new and experienced players to find the right mix for the all-important 2023 Cricket World Cup.
Here’s a thoughtful breakdown of how the selectors might arrive at the final XI.
Being one of the greats of the game and the only player to score three double-hundreds in ODI cricket, skipper Rohit Sharma easily fills the first opening slot.
For those who follow the sport closely, it is evident that Sharma had remodeled his game in 2022 owing to the criticism of being a slow starter. Since adopting the new belligerent approach, he has scored four half-centuries in ten games at a staggering strike rate of 114.05 while maintaining a healthy average of 43.63.
The second opener’s slot is a toss-up between Shikhar Dhawan, Shubman Gill, KL Rahul and Ishan Kishan.
Dhawan has had a rather mediocre run in 2022. His strike rate mostly lingered around the mid-70s, he averaged just over 34 and, despite playing relatively weaker opponents, he failed to capitalize on the good starts he got.
Both Kishan and Rahul are younger in comparison, and the fact that they are both wicketkeeper batsmen certainly adds more utility value. That being said, it is hard to turn a blind eye to Gill’s incredible form, but with two young, hard-hitting wicketkeeper batsmen waiting in line, he may have to compete hard for the slot.
At this point selecting India’s middle order seems to be the most unchallenging task of the lot.
An in-form Virat Kohli with the wealth of experience he has is irreplaceable at No. 3, followed by Shreyas Iyer – India’s all-format highest run-scorer in 2022 – at No. 4 and Suryakumar Yadav, the top-ranked T20 player in the world, at No. 5.
Since the retirement of the great Kapil Dev, India’s pursuit of a top-notch all-rounder who can contribute uniformly across all departments has been largely unsuccessful. Robin Singh did his best in the late 1990s but never came close to Kapil’s legacy.
India’s hopes today largely rely on Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja, both of whom are amazing fielders, quick run-scorers and decent performers with the ball. Axar Patel’s recent exploits have also been promising, but India cannot afford to have two left-arm spinners in the final playing XI.
Although Patel’s bowling statistics are nearly identical to those of Jadeja, it is Jadeja’s superior batting and fielding skills that make him a very compelling pick. Jadeja has also played 231 long-format international games compared to Patel’s 56, and he has faced more quality opponents in diverse conditions in his ten-year career.
All things considered, an in-form Jadeja definitely adds more bang for the buck than a prime Axar Patel. Besides, India would know that leaving out the best fielder in the world for the most competitive tournament on the planet would be a grave mistake.
So if Jadeja gets back in shape and finds his form, he is certainly going to fill the No. 7 spot right below Hardik Pandya.
No matter how many bowling all-rounders you have, it is important to carry a specialist spinner in the team, especially in Subcontinental conditions. As long as the doors stay closed on Ravichandran Ashwin, it is a battle between Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav.
Yadav seems to have found his form in the Sri Lanka series. His ability to hang around with the bat may give him the edge over Chahal, who averages just over 8.00 in ODIs.
Never before have India had such a long list of successful pacers to choose from, but sometimes the problem of plenty may put you in a conundrum.
It goes without saying that Jasprit Bumrah, India’s pace bowling superstar, is an automatic choice. Once he recovers, the selection committee will likely offer him a series or two before the World Cup to help him find rhythm and pace.
Another massively gifted youngster who India should embrace in the fullness of time is Umran Malik.
His raw pace is alluring, but it can sometimes be a double-edged sword, as his ODI figures pretty much suggest. At 48 overs Umran still stands at an economy rate of 6.31, which is dangerously lavish for a new-ball bowler. Yes, he can surprise with pace, but when playing the likes of England, New Zealand, Australia or South Africa, who constantly do such express pace in the nets, there is every chance it may miss the mark.
Mohammed Siraj, on the other hand, has been extremely impressive with the new ball. Alongside picking up early wickets, he has managed to carry the load well at the death, making him a very dependable choice in the 50-over format. With 33 wickets from 19 ODIs at a phenomenal average of 22.18 and an economy rate of 4.73, he definitely makes the cut ahead of Umran.
The other likely candidate would be Arshdeep Singh, who with his left-arm swing offers some much-needed variety to the attack. However, India must be wary of going into the longer format with just T20 specialists. Singh has apparently represented India in only three ODIs so far, and despite giving away 89 runs at an economy of 6.75, he has failed to provide a breakthrough on every single occasion. His T20I record is a lot better, but it remains to be seen if he can contain runs and produce wickets at the death in the longer format.
Thankfully, India still have 12 ODIs to go before the World Cup officially gets underway, and if Singe improves his death bowling, he should replace Bhuvneshwar Kumar, another swing king, who India largely relied on for early wickets.
The Pant-Samson conundrum
While Rishabh Pant injured himself badly in a car crash last month, Sanju Samson sustained an injury on his left knee and was ruled out of the rest of the tournament against Sri Lanka earlier this month. Samson’s exclusion from the New Zealand series is now a hot topic of discussion, as many see it as an indication of his probable exclusion from the forthcoming World Cup.
Truth be told, Samson hasn’t enjoyed the same kind of leeway Rishabh Pant has. And here’s a statistical comparison that may substantiate it. To date Samson has scored 330 runs in ODI cricket at an impressive average of 66 and a fairly imposing strike rate of 104.76. His wicketkeeping skills, although not often praised, have rarely been criticised.
Compare this to Rishabh Pant’s initial struggle in 2018-20: 374 runs in 14 matches with just one half-century, plenty of dropped catches and a paltry average of 26.71.
Yet he was presented with more opportunities.
The result? Pant amassed close to 500 runs at well over a run a ball the very next season he scored four half-centuries and a hundred while securing a healthy average of 44.64.
Sure, Samson’s lack of consistency can be irritating, but if he isn’t given enough opportunities before the World Cup, his progress will remain unquantified. Samson turns 29 this World Cup, so if India waits for one more world championship to consider him, he may well be out of his prime.
That being said, if Pant fails to recover and Samson refuses to live up to expectations, it will give Ishan Kishan the edge over KL Rahul for the opener’s spot. For one, he is the only in-form left-hander India could afford in the top six and, secondly, he guards the wickets much better than an often erratic Rahul.
Kishan is also the busier batsman of the two, scoring at 111.97, compared to Rahul’s 87.25. With the recent double ton against Bangladesh, he also demonstrated the ability to play the long innings, a quality most feisty openers lack. India too might prefer a left-right combination to start with, helping Kishan secure a spot at the top.
Assuming that Pant and Samson won’t be available for selection, here’s the best XI India can put together for the 2023 World Cup:
- Rohit Sharma (captain)
- Ishan Kishan (wicketkeeper)
- Virat Kohli
- Shreyas Iyer
- Suryakumar Yadav
- Hardik Pandya
- Ravindra Jadeja
- Kuldeep Yadav
- Mohammed Siraj
- Jasprit Bumrah
- Arshdeep Singh
Likely inclusions in the top 15 include Mohammed Shami, Shubman Gill, KL Rahul and Axar Patel.