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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