World Cup 2023: How to stop a high-flying India?

The Men in Blue have had a rampaging start to the World Cup 2023, winning three consecutive games.
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It’s really arduous to find any glaring weakness in this Indian team, statistically and theoretically.

The Men in Blue have had a rampaging start to the World Cup 2023, winning three consecutive games. India are sitting at the top of the points table and look like the most complete team in the competition. They are ticking boxes every game and shaping as an unbeatable unit as the tournament moves.

It’s really arduous to find any glaring weakness in this Indian team, statistically and theoretically. India have match-winners lined up in the XI, and the backups are equally potent. No wonder they were the team to beat before the start of the tournament.

However, we try to form a theory about how to trouble the Indian team and stand a chance against India.

The Indian batting unit is flying high on the back of the serial winners in the top six. However, there are still loopholes if dissected thoroughly. The first six batters are runaway match-winners, but the form of Ravindra Jadeja is concerning.

Since 2022, Jadeja has 225 runs, averaging 28.12 and striking at an abysmal 63.73 in 14 ODI innings. For a No. 7, a strike rate of mid-60s is unacceptable, and his form is a reason for Shardul Thakur’s unnecessary inclusion in the XI. India must prefer an all-rounder who is not a specialist in any department to prolong the batting depth.

Hence, if the opponents somehow manage to get through that formidable top six, India might be in troubled waters. To India’s fortunate, their specialist batters have done the job almost every time thus far. But there are ways to take them down.

Also Read: Dawid Malan - an atypical English batter

The left-arm pacers have troubled the top order from time to time, and despite making technical adjustments, they have been at sea. Rohit took the leg-stump guard to escape LBW off Shaheen Afridi and found immediate success. But he has been dismissed six times since last year against the left arms, so there will always be vulnerability, especially with the new ball.

Rohit’s gung-ho approach in the powerplay means he will always be a shot away from creating chances for the opposition. This year, the Indian captain has been aggressive from scratch. It doesn’t necessarily mean only left-arm speedsters can agitate him; those who can bring the ball in sharply in the air or off the deck will fancy their chances, like Josh Hazlewood in the opening game.

Shubman Gill is literally impossible to dismiss early on, and Rohit’s approach has helped him significantly. The track must be notoriously unfit for the batters to scalp his wickets. However, Gill can go in shell if the top guns are removed early, as visible in the Asia Cup 2023 against Pakistan.

Gill was uncertain with his footwork, which is rare, and also looked tentative throughout his stay in that rubber. Virat Kohli can find himself in trouble if the opponents remove one of the openers early. Virat has batted in 16 ODI innings this year and arrived in the powerplay in seven matches.

He has been dismissed four times in seven games, and had Mitchell Marsh grabbed an easy chance in the first World Cup game, the tally would have been five. Virat averages a mere 17 and strikes at 64.76 while also playing 67.61% dot balls in the first ten overs this year. So, if one of the openers falls early, Virat also becomes vulnerable.

Virat Kohli’s struggles against left-arm orthodox are also well known. He has been indecisive with his footwork and erred shots against them. Kohli averages 11.75 and got out four times against them in ODIs this year.

While every batter is at discomfort on turning tracks, the waning expertise of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli makes them susceptible to all types of spin. They have succumbed to the slow bowlers a few times lately.

Shreyas Iyer has a distinct weakness, and the world knows it. The only thing noticeable is that Iyer has slowly turned into a compulsive puller, and it’s a double-edged sword. Shreyas will always have a higher strike rate, but the probability of a wicket will always be on, and the control will always be low.

Iyer was at sea against Pakistan early on in Ahmedabad but compensated after playing a few balls. He has always been a leg-side dominant batter, but forcing him to hit on the off-side can be rewarding. The slower balls into the pitch won’t be a bad idea, and Iyer also plays those uppish drives, meaning fuller balls early in his innings slightly away from the off-stump line can be tried by the pacers.

India’s No. 4 and No. 5 are terrific players of spin. KL Rahul showed his spin masterclass against Sri Lanka in Colombo, and his way of countering Adam Zampa was exemplary. Rahul is a quintessential middle-order batter, equally adept against spin and pace.

Rahul’s ability to manoeuvre the fields against the slow bowlers stands him out. However, his approach while chasing massive targets has been concerning at times. Rahul fails to find an ideal tempo for his innings while racing behind a hefty score.

It’s not to say that Rahul can’t score quickly, but his template is ideal for the 270s chases. While chasing anything over 300, Rahul can fail to get going against the quality bowling attacks. Maybe this is the only area of concern in his ODI game.

While Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul are skilled operators against the spinners, Hardik Pandya has stuck against them lately. Hardik has a marvellous average of 62.50, but his strike rate of 77.63 hasn’t been up to the standards this year. He has also played 45.34% dot balls and taken 23 deliveries for every boundary.

Hardik’s spin issues will resurface if one of Iyer or Rahul gets out somewhere in the middle overs. Even if the opponents fail to dismiss him, Hardik’s partner will take unnecessary risks from the other end, leading to casualties. He has erred in judging the lines often lately.

Ravindra Jadeja’s mediocre run with the willow has already surged pressure on the top six, and Shardul Thakur hasn’t done anything with both bat and ball. This World Cup has shown that he is not a wicket-taking option for the team.

While Thakur has a wicket-taking knack, he concedes plenty of runs almost every time. Since 2022, Shardul has 42 wickets at 27.07 runs apiece but leaked 5.86 runs per over. Rohit hasn’t given him crucial overs to bowl, showing his trust in Shardul.

In fact, Shardul Thakur has bowled in 30 innings since last year and finished his 10-over quota only four times. In those four innings, he has had an economy rate of 6.50 or higher in three games. 86.66% of the time, Shardul hasn’t bowled all his ten overs, and he has given six or more an over 53.33 of the time in this phase.

The skilled batting units have targetted him precisely, and while Thakur has snared wickets in the process, his bowling hasn’t inspired confidence. Hardik Pandya’s rise as a bowler has been immense, and he has covered the below-par returns of Shardul from time to time. Thakur has been India’s most ineffective bowler this World Cup thus far.

He hasn’t added depth with the willow, either. He averages 17.31 and strikes at 105.11 - both unideal for a No. 8 in ODIs. He faces only 12.52 balls per innings on average.

The opponents have their task cut out for the six batters only. The rest of them haven’t been as much of a threat. As discussed above, there are plans to get past those six batters to cause upheaval in the high-flying Indian camp.

India can include Suryakumar Yadav at No. 6 or 7 and provide real depth in the batting department. Suryakumar is a fine player of spin, and he can shield Hardik Pandya from facing much spin. Unless he plays, the opponents can attack Iyer and Rahul with pace and save their spinners for Hardik and Jadeja to restrict India from a strong finish.

Another thing is the inclusion of Ravichandran Ashwin on the spin-friendly tracks. Ashwin was a late addition in place of injured Axar Patel. While Ashwin has been decent in a few chances, his ODI bowling will be under the scanner throughout the tournament.

Ashwin is adept against the left-handers, but the RHB-heavy side can take him down. The tactically sound teams will line their batting order similarly to negate his effect. Ashwin doesn’t have ample games against quality sides lately, so he can’t be relied upon straight into the World Cup.

The surfaces in this World Cup have been ideal for batting, and India will leave Mohammed Shami to accommodate one of Shardul Thakur or Ravichandran Ashwin. Shardul Thakur has crumbled with the ball on the flat tracks. Ravichandran Ashwin hasn’t bowled on a complete batting pitch since his return.

Ashwin has been belted heavily on pleasant tracks in the past, and even though he is a much better bowler now, a guaranteed performance is debatable. Both don’t provide as much value in any department. Ashwin has never been an attacking batter who could bat aggressively in the lower order, whereas Thakur’s numbers have been substandard.

They are the weaker link and will be on the radar consistently. It’s a formidable Indian unit, but few openings are visible if looked into properly. However, it’s arduous to do all these things in a go, and the opponents will also require the conditions in their favour.

Even in 2019, India were the most fearsome team, but New Zealand fortunately got the best conditions to bowl in. Their new-ball bowlers wreaked havoc in Manchester due to help from the weather. The ball swung enough to trigger a collapse, but India had an unsettled middle order then.

New Zealand will again be a massive challenge for India in Dharamsala. The Kiwis have Trent Boult and Matt Henry, who are giants with the new ball, and they will get some help from the conditions. Both have also been in terrific form and challenge the in-from top order.

Moreover, the Kiwi batters play spin well and can negate the two quality spinners - Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav. The tweakers won’t get purchases from the pitch in Dharamsala. New Zealand will pose the first real challenge to the Men in Blue.

England’s weak bowling attack will be a solace for India on a relaid Lucknow track. However, their batting unit is potent enough to cover for their bowling. It’s just that England haven’t batted according to their potential so far, barring the game against Bangladesh.

The Indian bowlers will still have their task cut. England will go all the guns blazing after two early defeats. A lot will rely on how well the Indian bowlers counter English batters.

South Africa will pose the most significant challenge in Kolkata. Eden Gardens has always had batting surfaces, and the Proteas have a terrifying batting lineup. They also handle spin well, probably better than New Zealand.

The Indian batters will have to do the heavy lifting in the game, given the nature of the deck. The outcome will depend on which team bats better. South Africa and India are the two best batting units in the competition.

These are the three teams who will challenge India severely. The conditions will play a massive role as well. The sides, like New Zealand, know how to exploit favourable conditions.

This time, India also have seasoned campaigners. If things don’t go south drastically, the Men in Blue might succeed eventually after a 12-year exile. However, the opponents will also be well-equipped to target the soft areas and make life as difficult as possible for India.

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