After weeks of uncertainty and multiple confrontations, wiser heads have finally prevailed as the Indian squad for the upcoming edition of the ICC Champions Trophy was named on Monday, 8th May. This comes after the BCCI missed out on the original deadline of 25th April, with its tussles with the ICC underway. For fans and well wishers of Indian cricket, however, the news of the squad being announced will bring about a great sense of relief, as at one point, it seemed that the defending champions would boycott the event.
The squad which was named was more or less expected, with Virat Kohli’s era as captain commencing off earlier in the year against England. The men in blue fared terrifically against England as all boxes were ticked in the three-match series. Veterans such as MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh striking form was just what the doctor ordered for the Indian team.
But the one aspect which stood out as the biggest boon for India in that series was the emergence of two finishers, in the form of Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya. Finishing was a department in which the Indians lacked behind since early 2015 and the long wait lasting 2 years was finally over when a gem in Jadhav was unearthed against England.
With India being placed in the relatively easier group also comprising of South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the side led by the effervescent Virat Kohli is already among the favourites for the competition. Going in as the defending champions, India shall remain under the spotlight for various reasons. Thereby, below, we conduct a detailed analysis of the Indian squad, which will be on that flight to the UK for the grand event.
India’s probable playing XI:
- R. Sharma 2. S. Dhawan 3. V. Kohli (c) 4. Y. Singh 5. MS Dhoni (wk) 6. K. Jadhav 7. H. Pandya 8. R. Jadeja 9. R. Ashwin 10. B. Kumar 11. J. Bumrah
Rohit Sharma, India’s most lethal weapon at the top of the order returns to the ODI setup for the first time since October 2016 and his return is a delightful news. It was in this very tournament in 2013, when that dazzling pair of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan was tried at the top of the order and since then, the duo has put on some stunning performances. The success attained by India in ODIs since the last four years can be credited to the starts provided by Dhawan and Sharma. The duo as an opening pair average a stunning 45.36 in 56 innings and have already piled on 2495 runs together. This includes 8 century and an equal number of half-century stands. The most impressive aspect has been that they complement each other quite well and whenever they have put on a century stand, India has always won. In winning causes, their average as an opening pair shoots up to 57.48.
Interestingly, Ajinkya Rahane has been slotted as the reserve opener to the side. Considering the elegant right hander’s record in England, this isn’t a bad move. Rahane averages 38.88 in England as opposed to his career average of 32.42 and in this part of the world, he has achieved considerable success. Not to forget, the last time he was in England, he rampaged the English bowlers into orbit at Birmingham where he registered his first ODI century. In case Dhawan doesn’t fire, Rahane can make his way alongside Sharma and his experience of playing in England will be valuable. At the top of the order, Rahane can adjust to any role and with the powerplay in context, his range as an opener further widens.
- MIDDLE ORDER:
The opposition bowlers are bound to have a chill down their spines once they read the names of India’s number 3, 4 and 5. Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni are proven world champions and with an ocean of experience under their belt. Yuvraj gave his ODI career a new lease of life in January against England, as he played that breathtaking knock of 150 at Cuttack. Kohli being Kohli, doesn’t need superlatives to mention what sort of an ODI legend he has been. A batting average in excess of 53 is just a small proof of that statement. And with MS Dhoni around, the men in blue always have the guiding light of an individual, who has revolutionised the way ODI cricket is played. Just when the bowlers are done dealing with the magical Rohit- Dhawan combo, there will be Kohli, Yuvraj and Dhoni, waiting to decimate the bowlers. Such is the batting prowess of this team.
Kedar Jadhav will be preferred at number 6 and deserves to after all he was the Man of the Series against England. Jadhav emerged as a superb finisher and in the batting friendly arenas of England, he should enjoy finishing in the death overs. Jadhav can double up as the backup wicketkeeper as well if needed.
Hardik Pandya as a seam bowling all-rounder has grown in stature in a short span of time. From someone who constantly bowled the ‘Hit Me’ deliveries, to someone who can bowl in the 140’s and hit the good lengths, Pandya’s metamorphosis has been a fairytale for India. Earlier this year, the Baroda all-rounder was simply superb against England as he picked up wickets at the crucial junctures and as a finisher, tonked the ball a long way. His partnership which almost won India the game at Kolkata out of nowhere is enough to certify that his improved finishing skills can be relied upon.
Along with Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja will be the other all-rounder. Jadeja was the winner of the Golden Ball in the previous edition and would look to continue his smooth run in England. Making his return to ODI’s against England earlier this year, Jadeja was among the wickets and extremely miserly with the ball in the context of the series. It is often proven that when Jadeja bowls well in the middle overs, India more often than not wins matches. This time around as well, this hypothesis could determine India’s fate for the tournament.
Interestingly, India has gone in with just one spinner in the form of R. Ashwin. Instead of opting for a backup spinner in the form of Amit Mishra or Kuldeep Yadav, the selectors opted for an extra batsman in Manish Pandey. Ashwin himself hasn’t been in the best of form in the shorter formats and having missed the entire IPL due to sports hernia, he will be short of match practice. But one must remember, that Ashwin is a big tournament bowler and rises to the occasion. Rewind to early 2015, and fans remember how Ashwin was dropped midway in the tri-series in Australia before he made such a daunting comeback in the ICC World Cup. Thereby, underestimating the class of this champion spinner will be a grave offence.
With just two slow bowlers in the form of Jadeja and Ashwin, Yuvraj Singh’s role in the middle overs will become far more significant. The Punjab all-rounder has been a proven match winner with the ball, and if Virat Kohli uses him proactively in the middle overs, India could probably be gaining a colossal strategic advantage. Yuvraj as a spinner deserves to be tested in all games and he will surely do well as he has in the past.
One wouldn’t be wrong in saying that this looks to be India’s most competent pace battery ever going into an ICC event. Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah have been in mesmerising form over the last couple of years. Bumrah at the death has been a revelation and Kumar with the new ball in England has always been a class apart. Remember the previous ICC Champions Trophy, and how Bhuvneshwar Kumar made it a habit to get rid of the opposing openers?
Another boon has been the return of Mohammad Shami into the ODI setup. His last ODI was against Australia in the semi-final of the ICC World Cup 2015 in Sydney. Making his comeback after more than two years into the format in which he prospers the most, is some news for Indian fans. With 87 wickets in just 47 ODI’s, Shami has been India’s best pacer ever since he set the arena ablaze in late 2013.
India however, will have a massive headache in determining the best playing XI. While they will be tempted to play Hardik Pandya and the two spinners, this will mean that just one of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav will feature in the XI, considering Bumrah to be a sure shot starter. This is an issue which will need to be addressed soon. If conditions permit, however, then India could field four pacers including Pandya, with Jadeja being the only spinner.
All in all, this is a fantastic pace attack full of proven match winners. With conditions likely to support them, now only the matter of maintaining the right mindset remains. With such a dominant squad named, don’t be surprised if India defends their title successfully!