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DILEEP PREMACHANDRAN
TWELFTH MAN

Dileep Premachandran is editor-in-chief of Wisden India

It’s too early to press the panic button

Team India’s director of Cricket Ravi Shastri with Shikhar Dhawan during a training session. PTI

t would be ridiculous to reach for the panic button over results in the ongoing Tri Series in Australia. Starting with the hosts, already through to the final after three straight wins, each of the teams is experimenting with the combination to arrive at a best XI before the start of the World Cup. India's two losses need to be seen in that context. They were edged out in a close game against Australia, and then routed by England in Brisbane.

The defeat against an England side they had thrashed 3-1 on their home turf not so long ago was certain an eyebrow-raiser. Again though, it needs to be said that India would almost certainly not have batted first were it not for a desire to test out all possible scenarios before the first World Cup game against Pakistan in Adelaide on 15 February. M.S. Dhoni's preference is to chase, especially with India's batting options, but top-order collapses in both games will have caused a fair bit of soul-searching before the caravan reached Perth.

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India would almost certainly not have batted first were it not for a desire to test out all possible scenarios before the first World Cup game.

he problems have started right at the top where Shikhar Dhawan appears to be a shadow of the player who lit up India's successful Champions Trophy campaign in 2013. He made runs against West Indies and Sri Lanka at home, but has seemed well out of depth on surfaces that offer even a hint of lateral movement. Worrying, he's been getting out in almost identical fashion, edging deliveries slanted across him to the wicketkeeper or the slip cordon. Those that remember Gautam Gambhir's dramatic decline after the 2011 World Cup triumph will hope that Dhawan's career doesn't follow the same script.

Ajinkya Rahane got a start when asked to open in Brisbane, but the appalling stroke he played to get out was in keeping with his general struggle to build on promising beginnings in the format. When Rohit Sharma returns to the side, one of Dhawan or Rahane will have to drop down or sit out to accommodate him.

Another vexing issue is the No.3 spot. Virat Kohli temporarily moved down to No.4 in the home series so that India could try Ambati Rayudu at No.3. But Kohli is the best No.3 in the world, a master at finishing off chases. To move him from that slot would be foolhardy in the extreme. Rayudu, despite a century at home, doesn't possess the same dynamism or urgency. If we go by the principle that your four best batsmen must be in the top four – In India's case, compromise is involved because Dhoni has not batted that high up for years – then Kohli must bat at No.3 and Suresh Raina at No.4.

The lack of batting firepower lower down is a concern. R. Ashwin is not really a biffer, while Akshar Patel is finding international cricket a tough baptism. No one knows how effective Ravindra Jadeja will be if he does indeed return after such a long lay-off. Contrast that with a team like Australia, who had Mitchell Starc – with a Test 99 to his name – batting at No.9.

Anxiety about the batting is only natural when the bowling is so unremarkable. Bhuvneshwar Kumar's lack of pace makes him utterly pedestrian when there's no swing on offer, while Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami are habitually wayward. Ishant Sharma's one-day record is nondescript, and the surfaces are unlikely to give much joy to the likes of Ashwin and Patel.

Since 1983, there have been four World Cups outside the subcontinent. On three of those occasions (1992, 1999 and 2007), India didn't even make the last four. Each time, they had an array of exceptional batsmen. The bowlers were far more skilled than they are now. The omens don't look great.

 
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