Australia beat India in a bilateral series in India for the first time in ten years, becoming just the fifth team to come back from 0-2 down to win a series 3-2.
Usman Khawaja, Jhye Richardson, Pat Cummins and Peter Handscomb were stars for Australia with Ashton Turner destroying India in the fourth ODI at Nagpur.
Although Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis didn’t deliver as their BBL form promised, the younger players taking responsibility certainly helped.
Both those players will have a big role to play in coming matches with Shaun Marsh, Australia’s star ODI batsman of the last year, sitting in the dugout.
With Steven Smith and David Warner becoming eligible to play for Australia again, and with captain Aaron Finch finding form in the ODIs, Australia seems to be peaking at the right time before the all-important World Cup.
In the UAE against Pakistan, Australian players will encounter a lot of spin bowling and they must improve on their lessons from past matches.
Australia still stands a chance to defend the World Cup. If Australia makes it to semis, with the pitch having the effect of wear and tear, the experience of playing on the subcontinent should help them.
Before the series against Australia, 13 Indian players were sure of their tickets to the World Cup. The series was about deciding the final two spots in the 15-man squad: the fourth fast bowler and the back-up wicketkeeper.
But after the series, there are questions marks not just over those two places but also the No.4 batsman for India, the form of the top three Indian batsman, Yuzvendra Chahal’s confidence taking a dent, Kuldeep Yadav not being a mystery bowler anymore and more importantly the fielding and hunger of the side.
Virat Kohli mentioned in the post-match conference that Australia’s composure under pressure gave them the lead, but mainly it was India’s undoing in showing a lack of intent apart from Virat on the field.
Rohit Sharma looked tired, and Shikhar Dhawan has had lean run by his standard in last 15 ODIs apart from the 143 at Nagpur.
Ambati Rayudu has failed against big teams in crucial moments apart from the 90 he got in Wellington against New Zealand a month back. Clearly, after strings of failure, his spot in the World Cup Team is questioned.
Rishabh Pant clearly will not go just as a back-up keeper. MS Dhoni – even on one leg – will keep wickets, as he has shown in the past playing through the injuries.
MS Dhoni is a rock in the Indian middle order. (AP Photo/David Rowland)
But from a batting point of view, when Pant got chance to take India home in the final ODI, he failed.
Kuldeep Yadav, in his last four ODIs, went for more than 200 runs and took just four wickets.
It raises an all-important question: does his potency diminish without Chahal?
KL Rahul got limited opportunities in two T20 innings and one ODI innings at Nagpur. Though he did show sparks of brilliance, he still seems not to be in the league for which India’s top three is known.
A lot of questions had to be answered, but many unanswered questions will bother India leading to the World Cup, which is still two months away.
Since the 2015 World Cup, India have tried a string of middle-order batsmen. In that period, Yuvraj Singh averages 45 with a strike rate of 97, Ajinkya Rahane averages 46 at 92, Dinesh Karthik averages 53 at 72 and finally Ambati Rayudu, who has scored 464 runs at 43 in 14 matches in the No.4 spot.
The puzzle is still on.
So it’s time for India to get MS Dhoni at No.4 and Rishabh Pant or Vijay Shankar, Kedar Jadhav following him and Hardik Pandya later on.
The spin twins, Kuldeep and Chahal, have to play together to add break-throughs in the middle overs.
The top order has to fire for India if they are to chase 300-plus scores.
Vijay Shankar should go to the World Cup, going by the brilliance he has shown in the last few months. He can be the sixth or seventh bowling option for India on the pitches in England, which offer some movement. Batting-wise he is compact.
Rishabh Pant gives India an X-Factor. (AP Photo/David Rowland)
Whatever the chief selector MSK Prasad, Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri say, the IPL will be an acid test for many players such as Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul, Dinesh Karthik, Umesh Yadav and even Ajinkya Rahane.
The after effects of this series loss for India won’t be felt. That’s mainly due to the mega festival of IPL coming. There will be some surprise omissions come the cut-off date of April 25, when they must announce their final 15-man squad for the World Cup.
India’s uncertainty over the team is mostly their undoing because of experimentation. No more experiments now.
Virat Kohli, the best Indian batsman, should bat at No.3 whatever the condition, followed by MS Dhoni, who could provide a caution against the wind if push comes to shove at No.4.
Jasprit Bumrah will lead the bowling attack once again and in England Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s swing bowling could come in handy over Shami’s hit-the-deck bowling. India should also take a fourth fast bowler.
Rishabh Pant, despite his failure, has the X-factor someone like Virender Sehwag had, and he can turn the match on its head if he gets going. No way he should be missing the bus.
In the 2003 World Cup, Australia had someone like Andrew Symonds – who not many knew before the tournament – taking the game away from the opposition.
In 1996, Sanath Jayasuriya and his opening partner Romesh Kaluwitharana went berserk in the first 15 overs to set the tone for rest to follow, which was something out of the box in those days.
In 2011, India had Yuvraj Singh with bat and ball doing the job of finishing the innings and using his golden arm to break partnerships in the middle overs.
And even Imran Khan backed Inzamam-ul-Haq to the hilt before he produced magical knocks in the semi-final and final to help Pakistan win the 1992 World Cup.
The World Cup cannot be won just with orthodox cricket. Teams need to have the player who could instil in the opposition the fear of the unknown.
For India, Rishabh Pant is the man to do so. Logically, Pant could give the option of variety in having a left-handed batsman in the middle overs in an Indian line-up stacked with right-handed batsmen.
Also, Pant can bat at any position between No.1 and 7 and that allows the team management to use him as a floater while making the slots flexible and considering Pant’s ability to hit sixes from the word go makes him an interesting selection.
Pant showed the flashes of what he can do in the fourth ODI at Nagpur in adding quickfire 36 runs off 24 balls. Ideally, after a 193 runs opening standing which India got in Nagpur ODI, Pant should have walked in at No.3.
Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav and Dinesh, Karthik are proven players but they are all in the same mould. You need X-factor which this young player possesses in abundance.
All is not lost for India.