By Yajurvindra Singh
India, with a 2-0 lead against Australia in the five-match One Day International (ODI) rubber at home, looked certain to clinch another series. But the final result of a 2-3 defeat did come as a rude shock to the Indian camp.
What is more worrying is the false bravado that followed the loss. One does understand that the focus of the Indian cricket think tank is on selecting the players for the upcoming World Cup. But losing three matches on the trot is definitely a cause for concern.
A rookie Australian side mauled the strong Indian bowling attack, scoring 300+ runs on two occasions. The Australian batsmen, who earlier looked vulnerable against spin and pace, seemed to have got the measure of the Indian bowling unit.
India probably exposed their bowlers more than it was necessary. This, therefore, gave the Australian batsmen the time to make the finer adjustments to play them successfully.
Australia, the defending World Cup champions, was not looked at as a front-runner for the showpiece event this year. But the series victory against India has given them that extra pair of wings and confidence.
India, one felt on sheer past performance, had a pool of players who could be interchanged without showing any major weakness in the composure of their final playing eleven.
This has now been proved wrong, as the young Indian players, blessed with plenty of natural talent, have shown that they lack maturity and understanding of the dynamics of the situation. Unfortunately, the Indian team has to once again look at the "tried and tested" players.
Going by his last press interview, it seems that Indian captain Virat Kohli has finalised his playing eleven, as well as the core group of players. One hopes that the Indian selectors and Kohli are on the same page, especially as April 23 is the last date for submitting the Indian side for the World Cup to the International Cricket Council (ICC).
Kohli also said that the performances in the Indian Premier League (IPL) will have no bearing on the selection of the World Cup side. But the IPL is such a popular tournament that a good performance by the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Mayank Agarwal or the other aspiring prospects may garner public support which may be hard to ignore, given the weakness in India's middle-order.
The Indian side should have four possible openers in their fold. Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and K.L.Rahul at present look certain. The weather conditions in England in June are likely to be wet and cold.
The Indian team has struggled in England in the past and more than flamboyant stroke-play, the technically correct and subtle placements get better results. This is precisely why Rahane could be preferred as a possible alternative.
The No. 3 spot should be a permanent fixture for Kohli. He is by far the best batsman in the Indian side and the more overs he gets to bat, the better it is for the team. The No. 4 and No. 5 slots are where India is showing a certain weakness.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a certainty in the side for his wicketkeeping, but he definitely does not look like India's best option to fill the No. 4 position. Dhoni should be used as a floater, as his astute cricketing brain is important in getting the best from whomsoever he may be batting along-side. He stands out like a true father figure and for the youngsters just the " guru" to look up to and follow.
India need a genuine middle order batsman to steer the team out of trouble if they happen to lose quick wickets initially or even when things are going well. The No. 4 position is therefore very critical, as in limited overs cricket it replicates the centre half of a football or hockey side in controlling the game.
The street smart cricketer, Kedar Jadhav, has cemented his place at the No. 6 position. He is a shrewd spinner and a very handy lower order finisher.
The bowling all-rounder's position will revolve around Hardik Pandya and Vijay Shankar. The latter has also shown that he has the technique to bat higher up the order, if and when required.
Although Dinesh Kartik looks to be a strong contender for the second wicketkeeper's slot, the young and talented Rishabh Pant should be chosen. He is an ideal limited overs batsman, who has the natural flair to be a match-winner.
In England, the ball will not spin the way it does in India and with more pace bowlers operating, Pant will feel much more at ease. India needs a replacement for Dhoni and this dynamo of a cricketer, having already proven himself with centuries in England and Australia, needs to be given the experience and exposure to better himself.
The bowling attack is in place with 3 spinners in Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja and the pacers being Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah. They are being talked about at present as the best bowling combination in the world.
The format of the 2019 World Cup is far more challenging than ever before. Each of the 10 teams in the league stage will play each other. India will need to be at their very best from the word go. They play South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and their formidable foe Pakistan in their first four matches. The new format is very interesting, as it requires the teams to show consistency.
Meanwhile, the Indian team deservedly and rightly paid tribute to the armed forces during the third OI against Australia in Ranchi by donning army camouflage caps.
Now the entire country will cherish if they win the "war" of cricket by clinching the World Cup.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer)