New Delhi: India went on an experimentation spree in the limited overs series against the West Indies but not much came out of it except Tilak Varma emerging as a contender for a World Cup middle-order slot on the back of his exploits in the T20 series.
Ahead of the Asia Cup and subsequent World Cup, India were looking for options in the middle-order in the ODI series but the number four slot remains up for grabs.
Knowing that it was their final chance of trying out players ahead of the two multi-team events, skipper Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli did not bat in the series and watched the action from the sidelines.
With series going down to the wire, the move was criticised but it allowed the likes of Ishan Kishan, Sanju Samson and Suryakumar Yadav to make a strong case for themselves.
Before the start of the series, Samson and Kishan were seen as contenders for the wicket-keeper’s spot but by the end of it, the latter emerged as a strong contender for the reserve opener’s slot with Rohit and Shubman Gill set to open in the Asia Cup.
Rohit’s absence allowed Kishan to open in all three games and he made the most of the opportunity with scores of 52, 55 and 77.
Samson, who is used to being in and out of the side, got two innings to deliver under pressure and his impactful 51 off 41 balls in the series-deciding third ODI game ample proof of his rare talent.
More was expected from him in the following T20 series but could not make it count. However, the team is likely to carry him till at least the Asia Cup if not the World Cup.
In the absence of K L Rahul and Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar had to ace the middle-order audition but the master of T20 batting fell short on the expectations.
Considering what he can do for the team in the middle-overs, it will be a tough call for the management to ignore him for the final 15 for World Cup.
Even if Rahul and Iyer regain full fitness in time for the Asia Cup beginning August 31, the team will have to be convinced of their form in the middle after a long injury lay off.
“Look, No. 4 has been an issue for us for a long time. For a long period of time, Shreyas has actually batted at No. 4 and he has done well – his numbers are really good,” India skipper Rohit said following his return to the country last week.
“There were so many guys who came in and went out. But injuries kept them away or they were not available or someone lost form. Shreyas and KL are coming off not playing anything for four months, big injuries, surgeries rather. Both had surgeries.
“I know, I had to undergo surgery once and how it feels afterwards, it is quite tough. We have to see how they respond, what they do,”
Tilak Varma emerges as dark horse in middle-order: The 20-year-old, who was picked only for the T20s, showed remarkable poise and maturity in his debut series for India. Whipping an express pacer bowl like Alzarri Joseph for successive sixes for his first runs in international cricket spoke volumes of his special ability.
He got only better as the series progressed and played a huge role in India’s fightback in the T20 series before the Hardik Pandya-led side lost the series-decider on Sunday.
The cricketing world took note of Varma’s arrival on the big stage including the great and insightful R Ashwin who backed the youngster to make the World Cup squad as an X factor player.
Kuldeep Yadav continues to be India’s go to spinner: Kuldeep Yadav reinforced his reputation of being India’s go to bowler for wickets in the middle overs. The left-arm wrist spinner picked up seven wickets in three ODIs, putting himself well ahead of of his good friend Yuzvendra Chahal in the pecking order.
Medium pace Mukesh Kumar too got the job done with the new ball on the slow wickets of the Caribbean.
Umran Malik, whose raw pace has generated a huge amount of interest, got another opportunity on the big stage but he was not able to step up. Ever since making his debut in June last year, the 23-year-old has not been able to raise his game.
As the great Brian Lara said recently, just raw pace is not enough to trouble the best in the business and it is time Malik adds tricks to his bowling.