With Jadhav recovering, Bhuvi rusty, Kuldeep fluctuating, here's decoding India's bowling jigsaw
There are a lot of permutations and combinations that one can think of while trying to assemble India's final bowling line up, going into their first World Cup match against South Africa on June 5.
Jasprit Bumrah, on account of his unorthodoxy and wicket-taking ability, walks into the Indian team. So does Hardik Pandya on the back of his all-round heroics. However, out of the remaining bowling options in Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja and Vijay Shankar, no one can take his spot for granted.
Kedar Jadhav was being considered a given in the team as apart from his street-smart batting exploits lower down the order, he acted as a cushion for Hardik Pandya and could fill in his overs if and when Pandya had an off-day. But, Jadhav having not fully recovered from his shoulder injury, and as a result playing in neither of the two warm-up matches, affects the entire make-up of the Indian bowling line-up, as in the absence of a batsman in the top six who can bowl a bit, you cannot bank on Pandya to bowl his full quota. Therefore, you ought to have a sixth bowling option.
Chahal or Kuldeep or both?
Till a couple of months ago, you would have considered left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav an automatic pick, but after an underwhelming IPL and waning returns in international cricket, there is a question mark over his spot.
If India intend to go with Ravindra Jadeja, which is discussed in detail below, there is a toss up between Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep. Knowing well what you will get from both bowlers, the choice here is more about the brand of cricket India want to play.
Chahal will be more consistent as he has more control over his bowling, but is not likely to run through sides. His figures of 6-37-1
10-55-3 against New Zealand and Bangladesh respectively are reflective of this fact.
On the other hand, you get results at the extremes of the spectrum from Kuldeep. There is a chance that will be taken for a lot of runs and return wicketless or he may hit the ground running and decimate the opposition batting line up. While he was ineffective in the warm-up match against New Zealand and returned with figures of 8.1-44-0, the practice match against Bangladesh was a tale of two halves for the wrist-spinner. He looked an ordinary bowler in his first five-over spell. But the moment he dismissed Mahmudullah at the start of his second spell in the 36th over, Kuldeep became a completely different bowler and everything started falling into place for him. The 24-year-old ended up with match-defining figures of 10-47-3.
Chahal and Jadeja?
Despite Kuldeep's killer instinct, there is always a fear of him being found out, especially in a long tournament such as this World Cup. It will be an option worth considering to utilise him more towards the latter half of the tournament, rather than exposing him in the first few matches.
Another reason that is pushing Kuldeep down the pegging order is the returns that Ravindra Jadeja has got in the last few matches. Not only did he bowl exceptionally in the first warm-up match (7-27-1), Jadeja top-scored for India against New Zealand, slamming a breezy half-century, when each of the other batsmen looked like a fish out of water. Likewise, he claimed figures of 9.3-40-1 against Bangladesh.
After tracking Jadeja, the ODI bowler, over the last few years, it is clear he is not one to pick up two-three wickets in every match. On an average, you will get one wicket and a good economy rate from him, quite similar to Pakistan's Imad Wasim.
What further keeps Jadeja in contention for the playing XI is the evident improvement in his batting skills. His quickfire 20-30 runs lower down the order can be of great significance in the larger scheme of things.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Mohammed Shami?
It is an open secret that Bhuvneshwar Kumar's biggest weapon is movement, but with the ball hardly deviating in England, he is looking like a pale shadow of himself. On the contrary, ever since Mohammed Shami has made a comeback to ODI Cricket, he has been exceptional and has picked up 22 wickets from 11 ODIs. What's promising is that he is regularly picking up at least one or two wickets in the powerplay and then coming back to provide crucial breakthroughs in the middle overs as well.
There is not much to choose from the performances of both the pacers in the two practice matches. While Bhuvneshwar Kumar returned with figures of 4-27-0 and 5-19-0 in the matches against New Zealand and Bangladesh respectively, Shami claimed 4-16-0 and 4-22-0 respectively. Unless overhead conditions dictate team selection, Shami is likely to make the cut based on current form.
How about Vijay Shankar?
Vijay Shankar is another interesting option who provides a 'three-dimensional' option. After KL Rahul has almost sealed his spot at number four with a classy ton against Bangladesh and Kedar Jadhav is yet to fully recover from his shoulder injury, there is a chance for Shankar at number six. Even if Jadhav recovers, Vijay Shankar can be considered at six as he is a proper batsman and has the power to clear the fence.
With the ball as well, he can be a handful in conducive conditions. In such a scenario, India also have an option of resting one of the spinners and going with Vijay Shankar as the sixth bowling option, which will not only help India to get an extended batting line up but also ensure six proper options for skipper Virat Kohli to choose from.
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