India v Australia: MS Dhoni's tactical acumen pivotal for World Cup hopes and other takeaways

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MS Dhoni's importance to the team has been highlighted.

To say India were put to the test by Australia would be an understatement with the hosts tasting a 3-2 defeat in the five-match ODI series after leading 2-0 at one stage.

It was the first ODI series defeat suffered at home for India since 2015 and brought to an end a dominant run by the Men in Blue.

The clashes against the Aussies were India’s final international bilateral engagement before they depart for the ICC World Cup in England in May. Here, we look at the key takeaways that Virat Kohli and his men will reflect on following defeat.

SHANKAR, JADEJA SHOW PROMISE BUT PANDYA MISSED

With Hardik Pandya ruled out of the series due to a stiff back, there was a chance for others to stake their claim for the all-rounder’s slot in the squad. One of the players in contention was Vijay Shankar who featured in all five clashes.

Shankar shone with both bat and ball in the second ODI where his final over proved decisive and showed a glimpse of his potential in the other matches. Shankar has come a long way since his disastrous debut in the Nidahas T20 tri-series and could be a solid all-round option going forward for India if he continues to develop. However, he lacks the ‘X-Factor’ of Pandya who has the ability to change the course of the match single-handedly.

It was also a chance for Ravindra Jadeja to prove his all-round mettle but while the southpaw was decent with the ball, he barely contributed with the bat in his four appearances. Playing Jadeja in the all-rounder’s slot in the World Cup would perhaps be asking for too much with his abilities more suited as a specialist spinner.

India clearly lacked a game-changer with the bat down the order and this problem area was highlighted in the three defeats. Pandya’s significance has only increased after the loss and the team management will be desperate to have him fit and firing for the World Cup.

Shankar showed promise but still has some way to go.

Shankar showed promise but still has some way to go.

DHONI REMAINS CRUCIAL TO INDIA’S WORLD CUP HOPES

MS Dhoni’s batting abilities have divided opinions sharply of late but just how crucial his tactical acumen is to the ODI squad was proved in the series defeat.

The veteran wicketkeeper might not be the swashbuckling batsman he was in the early stages of his career but his glovework and ‘cricketing genius’ were sorely missed by India in the last two ODIs.

With Dhoni being handed a rest for the fourth and fifth ODIs, Rishabh Pant was given a chance behind the stumps but the youngster failed miserably in attempting to fill the veteran’s shoes. While he was unable to create any impact with the bat, Pant’s shoddy glovework cost India dear with the Delhi-born man fluffing several chances at crucial stages.

Also, India’s spinners such as Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal and even Kedar Jadhav looked toothless without Dhoni to orchestrate things from behind the stumps. India’s spinners look a different proposition with Dhoni at the helm but without the veteran bellowing instructions in his trademark style, they barely carried any threat against the Aussies.

There is no doubt about Pant’s potential and abilities but the youngster is a long way away from taking Dhoni’s mantle in the ODI squad as of now.

Dhoni was missed heavily behind the stumps.

Dhoni was missed heavily behind the stumps.

NUMBER FOUR REMAINS INDIA’S ACHILLES HEEL

The No4 slot in India’s batting order is fast turning into an enigma with no player yet to truly make the position his own. India have been trying to fill this particular hole for the past two years or so without any success.

Several players have been given an audition in the role with none truly standing out. The slot looked Ambati Rayudu’s to lose at one stage after his displays in the Asia Cup but his below par form since then has once again created a headache for Kohli.

Hence, it was surprising KL Rahul was given just the one game in the series despite his promising showings in the preceding T20 clashes. With Rayudu struggling and Rahul being barely given a chance, India have more questions than answers with regards to their No4 for the World Cup.

Kohli stated after the series loss that the team’s combination for the World Cup is looking good bar one position. It is most certainly the number four slot the India skipper was alluding to and it will now be interesting to see who the team management backs to perform the crucial role.

A poor series for Ambati Rayudu.

A poor series for Ambati Rayudu.

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IPL 2019: Bangladesh star Shakib Al Hasan granted NOC despite injury concern

Waseem Ahmed 14/03/2019
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Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan.

All-rounder Shakib Al Hasan has been granted a NOC (No Objection Certificate) to participate in the upcoming Indian Premier League (IPL) but the Bangladesh star has been asked to manage his workload carefully.

Shakib, who is due to represent Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL, is currently recovering from a finger injury he sustained in the Bangladesh Premier League. The injury had ruled out the southpaw from Bangladesh’s ongoing tour of New Zealand where the visitors currently trail 0-2 in the Test series.

Although Bangladesh were hopeful of Shakib making a recovery before the third against New Zealand which starts at Christchurch on Saturday, they have now been dashed with the all-rounder confirmed to miss out.

“He has got an injury and as he is recovering from it he has been advised a 10-day rest. So, he will miss the final Test against New Zealand. Following his recovery and if the doctors give him a green signal regarding his fitness, he can play any form of cricket he wants,” Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) chairman of media and communication Jalal Younus was quoted as saying by the Dhaka Tribune.

Shakib Al Hasan. Image - @SunRisers/Twitter.

Shakib Al Hasan. Image – @SunRisers/Twitter.

With the World Cup in England coming up in a couple of months, there have been concerns over Shakib’s participation in the IPL posing a further threat to his fitness. Younus believes the board should not put any restrictions on players but has kept the option of recalling Shakib early from the IPL open.

“I think there should not be any restriction. I think the players should be allowed to play if he is fit but be careful from picking up an injury. Shakib has already been given the clearance but it might be that he will comeback after playing first few matches. But we cannot restrict a player from playing a tournament. He can always be allowed if the board think he is fit,” he stated.

The 2019 IPL gets under way on March 23 and it remains to be seen if Shakib can recover in time for the early stages of the competition.

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Clear about India's playing combination for World Cup, says Kohli after Australia loss

Sudhir Gupta 14/03/2019
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India skipper Virat Kohli (r).

It wasn’t the most ideal of preparations for the upcoming ICC World Cup as India fell to their first ODI series defeat at home since 2015 but skipper Virat Kohli remains unperturbed as far as the team’s combination goes.

Having been 2-0 up, India were stung hard by Australia who came storming back to clinch the five-match series 3-2. The series was India’s final international engagement before departing to England for the World Cup and as such, there was plenty riding it on for the hosts.

Kohli had chopped and changed his personnel throughout the series, especially in the final three ODIs as India looked to figure out their best possible XI for the World Cup. Despite the series loss, the India skipper is confident about the team’s combination heading into the global showpiece.

“We are more or less sorted with what we want to do,” Kohli said after India’s 35-run loss in the series decider at New Delhi.

“Now it is just about giving guys their roles and expecting them to stand up and deliver during the World Cup.

“So we are not in a confused state anymore. Just probably one spot in the team that we have to discuss, and the rest of the team is pretty much sorted for us and we have been feeling pretty much balanced.”

Kohli feels there is only one spot left to discuss in the ODI squad.

Kohli feels there is only one spot left to discuss in the ODI squad.

Australia became only the fifth side in cricket history to turn a five-match series around after being down 0-2.

While not trying to use it as an excuse, Kohli stated that India had tinkered greatly with the playing XI in the final three ODIs to give fringe players an opportunity before the World Cup.

“The last three games, the idea was to give the guys on the bench and the fringe guys a bit of game time as well and just put them in those positions and see how they react. And you couldn’t have tried that anywhere else apart from those three games,” explained Kohli.

“That is not an excuse at all because we expect to raise our standard of cricket. The changes is not an excuse. It will never be an excuse. But we used these three games to give game time to guys who we think are good enough to perform at this level,” he added.

Kohli and the Indian players will now head to their respective franchises for the Indian Premier League (IPL) which gets under way on March 23. The World Cup, meanwhile, begins in England on May 30.

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