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28 May, 2019

Two batting suspects, Dhoni and Rahul pass the test

#CWC2019 India's warm-up matches review

Openers continue to worry skipper Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri with below-expected practice performance

By Francis Adams

Eoin Morgan and Virat Kohli make a happy picture here. Their seriousness will be on display when India take on the hosts and favourites on June 30. Picture courtesy:

Two of the four suspects in batting, the ageing Mahendra Singh Dhoni and a circumspect KL Rahul on Tuesday brought relief to Team India and their fans with encouraging centuries.

They delivered on the purpose of the two warm-ups, that is,  "middling the ball" as former India captain and commentator Sunil Gavaskar would like to describe it.

Team India have complained on several occasions during previous overseas tours of lack of good practice matches that help the players acclimatize to the conditions. 

The batsmen are required to start hitting the ball from the middle of their bat and help their confidence ahead of their life-defining main matches. 

The bowlers are meant to use these opportunities to test and tweak their line and lengths.

Not much serious analysis was done of Team India's first warm-up loss to New Zealand. Even the effigy-burning fans at home have by now come to understand that a loss in the first practice match should not be treated as an alarm bell of things to come.

India will take on Pakistan on June 16 at Old Trafford, Manchester.
Picture credit:
However, these very fans would have felt agitated had there been a negative result against our South Asian neighbour, Bangladesh. Any negative result against Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and critically Pakistan is not taken sportingly.

In this regard, Rahul by filling up the much-debated No 4 position and Dhoni, with an entire world's scrutiny focused on him, did well by boosting their confidence with centuries barring a few hiccups. Rahul with a sublime 108 from 99 balls and Dhoni, a belligerent 113 from 78 deliveries.

The other two suspects, Dinesh Karthik and Ravindra Jadeja batted satisfactorily from the few deliveries they got to bat.

The biggest worry now for Kohli and Shastri, ahead of India's first match on June 5 against South Africa is the brittle form of openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. Both have shown similar traits: When they are in form they can decimate any opposition, and both take a long time to come back to form.

Their poor start would mean pressure on Kohli and one that could trigger a domino effect. 

It is, thus, very crucial for India's batting coach Sanjay Bangar and Shastri to ensure that the openers get special attention at the nets every day, during next week, until they step on to the Hampshire Bowl pitch in Southampton to take on the South African bowlers.

It is heartening to note that Team India have a gap of more than three days between their matches, 1 to 3. These gap days will allow the players to destress and rejuvenate themselves for the next match.

However, surprisingly, this gap reduces to two days for the players to re-energize themselves for their must-win match against Pakistan on June 16. Again, they have only two days between their match with the West Indies on June 27 and versus England on June 30. There's only a single rest day, July 1, before they play Bangladesh, although they'll be playing this match at the same venue in Edgbaston, Birmingham.

Considering the round-robin nature of this World Cup, rest days are important for teams to recuperate and physically be ready to win their next match. A total of 48 matches will be played in 46 days during this World Cup, pretty much like IPL 2019.

Apart from the openers, Team India will be worrying over the not so encouraging form of Bhuvneshwar Kumar. His inability to strike early is putting added pressure on the team's trump card, Jasprit Bumrah. 

Will Mohammed Shami be able to step up consistently and fill the void of a spearhead wicket-taker?

Spinners Ravindra Jadeja, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav showed positive signs of hitting form in the warm-up match against Bangladesh.

As for Vijay Shankar and Hardik Pandya, you can only hope that they come good with their allrounder tags. If they do for each of India's nine round-robin matches, the World Cup trophy will be in sight.

Legends and allrounders of India's 1983 triumph here in England, Kapil Dev, Mohinder Amarnath and Yashpal Sharma are proof that having more than one performing allrounder in the team gets you closer to the Cup.