Last time India won the cricket world cup in 2011, they had Yuvraj Singh at No 4. In 2015, when India lost in semi-finals, they had an in-form Ajinkya Rahane. This time, they go in with a rookie at that pivotal position and with a brittle lower order that is likely to struggle if the pitches aren’t flat. For a country that gave birth to the world’s richest T20 league, for a country that took over ODI cricket in a way that the world was left watching in awe about the commercial potential, it’s quite stunning that India go into a world cup with an untested No 4 with nothing but just leap of faith. This isn’t a lament against Vijay Shankar — good luck to him, he has the skill but just hasn’t been allowed to grow into the role — but it’s a statement on how messed up the preparation was that India enter the most prized event in international calendar on a whim and a prayer.
Now, it’s all up in the air. What if M S Dhoni doesn’t find bowlers as easy to take on in the end overs as he does in IPL where teams always have a couple of weak links? The difference between taking the game to the last over and meandering without purpose would be stark. Worse, what if the top order fails at crunch time? The middle order can’t be really trusted to bail them out from tough situations. There has been much outrage at the absence of Rishabh Pant but he is far from a finished product. The best-case scenario for him was to replace Kedar Jadhav lower down, but he doesn’t provide bowling options that Jadhav offers.
For all of last year, they tried out different options for middle order in a haphazard manner and were blinded by the fact that the bowling attack and the combination of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma were winning games. Until Australia humbled them at home, winning three games in a row, the seriousness of their problems hadn’t hit. Was it the selectors’ short-sightedness or did the team management have the blinkers?