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Saturday, August 23, 2014

World Cup 2015 - Is India prepared?

The 2015 World Cup is around the corner - the schedule has been announced and preparations are ongoing for the next extravaganza. The big question on everyone's mind is whether the Indian team is prepared for the event in terms of personnel identified, adequate preparation (matches played on similar surfaces) and any injury concerns.

Let us try to get some statistics right.

Since the last World Cup (if you have forgotten, India won it at home), what has been the performance of the Indian team?

There have been 6 series in all that have been held in India (all bilateral ones) and India have won all of them (England, West Indies and Australia) except the one against Pakistan (lost 1-2). They have played in England twice (before the current series) and won the Champions Trophy while losing the other bilateral series. The team has won overseas series in West Indies, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. In between they have lost few tournaments (Asia Cup twice, CB series in Australia) as well as the last two bilateral series (in South Africa and New Zealand where they have not won a single match). The last two have been a sticky point in the Indian think-tank for various reasons. The performance has been so poor that it puts the recent test loss to shame!

Let us slice and dice the numbers more carefully to see what has happened so far.

 This shows the matches played in different countries since the last World Cup. India's performance has been poor in places where the pitch and opposition have been tough (Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and England). Performance in England has been decent thanks to the Champions Trophy win. If not, it would have been as bad as SAF and NZ. Proof that the Indian team have been poor travellers.
Is it due to poor scheduling? Is the team not playing the right number of ODIs? What do the stats say?

 No. 2013 saw the team play a high number of ODIs (and a good win % as well). This year, the number has dipped considerably with the focus being test matches and performance overseas. The two series (SAF and NZ) have contributed to the poor win percentage again.

 Very few ODIs against South Africa overall (4) and New Zealand (5) in the last three years. A number of them played against lowly West Indies and favorites Sri Lanka! England feature highly because of the home and return series that have been conducted. This is reflective of the BCCI standoff against different countries which has resulted in this skewed scheduling.
How did the Indians fare in Australia during the last tour?

 This was the tour that highlighted Virat Kohli's emergence to the international ODI scene (with his majestic 183 against Sri Lanka in the final ODI). India won once against Australia while they won twice against Sri Lanka (other than a tie) - not reaching the final of the tri-series. Most of the players who were part of that tour are present but will they make the squad to the World Cup?

What is the schedule for the Indian team during the World Cup?

Matches are scheduled in Adelaide, MCG, Perth, Hamilton and Auckland (initial phase) before the qualified teams play the quarterfinal. Will the Indian team have adequate practice in the Australian pitches before the World Cup starts? They are part of the Tri-series after the tests later this year.

The ODI schedule for the Indians from now till the World Cup looks like this:

Five matches in England and India (against West Indies) before they move Down Under for the tri-series which seems to be skeletal compared to the previous years. Each team plays the other only twice before the finals. The Indians do play in MCG and Perth thereby giving good practice to their players before the World Cup starts.

Let us turn our attention to the players now. Again, dividing the players by different positions and roles, we find startling insights from the data.

This is a clear problem area especially with the lack of form with Shikhar Dhawan (and to an extent, Rohit Sharma). 14 ODIs remain and the team can possibly turn upon Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane as back-up openers. It is not possible to blood any other player in this short time. What is the Team Management thinking about this? Any ideas? Will Virat Kohli be asked to open in a pressure situation?

Middle-Order batsmen

Four choices seem to be clear here - Kohli, Raina, Rahane and Rayudu (unless he drops in form very badly) have made enough to take the ticket to Australia. Rayudu has recently been on the India-A tour (and performed well) to Australia. Not much of a problem here.

The Pathan brothers have dropped off the radar and there is not much time (and opportunities) for them to make a comeback to the squad. Maybe the Champions League could be a possible stage for them to show their mettle. Otherwise, it will be Ashwin, Jadeja and Bhuvi. There could be a toss between Binny and Karn Sharma in the coming days and weeks. One of them might be picked for selection.

With Jadeja and Ashwin already part of the previous group, I expect Amit Mishra to be the only option possible (with close competition from Karn due to his batting).

Pace Bowlers
This is another area of concern for the Indian team with 15 bowlers tried out in three years and few of them falling off the radar for different reasons (poor form, injuries, international ban). Ishant Sharma could make a comeback with the flip-flop performance of the current crop of bowlers. Along with Bhuvi, Shami, Umesh Yadav, Mohit Sharma seem to be the favorites to make the trip. Ishant could definitely give the edge (provided he is injury-free).

Wicket Keeper batsmen
There is no doubt that this group contains a player who will fill in when MSD is injured or banned (for bowling slow). Sanju Samson is the latest choice after the selectors tried out Karthik and Parthiv Patel.

So, overall, the preparation from the Indian team point of view can be summarised as follows:

  1. 14 matches remain to tinker with the combination and selecting the 2-3 slots required for World Cup
  2. There seems to be no  problem for the Indian team to go to the knockout part of the World Cup. After then, what is the plan?
  3. The opening combination is a worry (just like test matches) and the Indian team would do well to prepare Plan B now (no time to create Plan A).
  4. The pace bowlers are also inexperienced and do not seem to be improving with matches. What is the fallback option?
Do the team management have answers to these and much more questions? They would do well to start finding some. I will be very happy to see this image again - I am sure as an Indian fan, you will as well.

Would love to listen to your thoughts.
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