I never thought India would reach even the knockout stages of the recently concluded ICC World T20. After the disappointing tour of South Africa and New Zealand, team India even failed to make the final of Asia Cup which of course reduced my expectations further.
But this time I was pleasantly surprised by Team India, making it to the final without being beaten once is a huge achievement. Even though they lost the final, even they and real fans like me will agree that they have exceeded expectations.
As T20 fever is over now let’s switch our focus to the 2015 World Cup. What do you think of India’s chances of defending the title or what are the areas of concern they have?
The answer is quite straightforward: Team India is struggling in ODIs and there are lots of problems to think about.
The series against New Zealand was a wake-up call for the team about what to expect during the 2015 World Cup. During that five-match One-Day International series the openers failed to provide a decent start as they crossed the 50-run mark only once (64 runs in the third ODI).
The middle order looked vulnerable as both Ajinkya Rahane and Suresh Raina were completely out of sorts. Raina was eventually dropped for the last two ODIs due to poor performances and was replaced by Ambati Rayudu who looked okay with scores of 37 and 20.
Stuart Binny played only one match in which he bowled only one over for eight runs and didn’t have a chance to bat. The selection of Binny for that tour was an indication that team was looking for an all-rounder who can bowl medium fast and can bat down the order; it was a smart choice keeping conditions into consideration.
Yet, with only one match, Binny could not prove anything and so we will never know how good or bad Binny would have been for Team India in those conditions.
Speaking of bowling, India conceded in excess of 270 runs in every match. The spin combination of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja didn’t looked threatening at all as the pitches were not conducive for spinners which India should take of note of.
India's pacers (Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Varun Aaron and Ishant Sharma) were too expensive especially Shami, Aaron and Sharma who never conceded less than six runs per over in a match throughout the series.
These statistics are alarming and definitely a matter of concern.
There was a feelling that only one match could have changed the course of the series but that match never came.
So what should the team management do now? A whole lot of changes is not ideal but there are definitely some spots up for grabs. In my view this Indian side needs a batsman with solid defence who can cope with bounce and swing and a fast bowling all-rounder.
The two names which pop into my mind straightaway are Cheteshwar Pujara and Irfan Pathan. Pujara, who has played only two ODIs for India is a must for the World Cup as he will bring much-needed stability to the side. He has the capability to hold up one end while the others can play their game around him.
The Indian batting line-up is full of strokemakers and even if Pujara takes some time to settle down, India can very well cover for it at the end. This coming IPL is going to be very important for him and good performances there will catch the eyes of the selectors.
Irfan Pathan on the other hand has enough experience of playing international cricket in Australia and New Zealand, so the only thing India needs is a fit and in-form Pathan (I hope I am not demanding too much or being overly-optimistic here).
Pathan, like many Indian fast bowlers, lost his way in the middle of his career and constant injuries never helped him. Nevertheless, there is no doubt about his ability and India need his services badly.
He can come on at first change to control the flow of runs and take crucial wickets during the middle overs. With the bat he can provide India with crucial balance and will give MS Dhoni an option to play an extra bowler (spinner or fast bowler).
Having said that, he has been out of the side for quite some time and he needs to perform well in this year’s IPL. Hopefully he can learn some tricks of the trade from his Sunrisers bowling partner Dale Steyn, coach Tom Moody and bowling coach Waqar Younis.
India will play only five more ODIs (against England in England) before they start their defence of the World Cup and there is not much time left for India to experiment which means players have less time to prove themselves.
That makes the IPL even more important for players like Pujara and Pathan; hope both of them grab their chances with both hands.
Before I conclude, one more player I would like to see in the 2015 World Cup is Gautam Gambhir. I will never forget the innings he played in the 2011 World Cup final against Sri Lanka or the innings against Pakistan in the ICC World Twenty20 2007 final.
He is definitely a big match player and I just hope that he plays well in this IPL and confirms his ticket for Australia and New Zealand.
© Cricket World 2014