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Trouble in the middle

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India_ODI_batting_middle_order_cricketOver the last few months, India may have found the solution to their pace bowling and spin battery problems, but their middle order continues to fail them. As many as seven batsmen have batted in two middle order slots for a long time. The likes of KL Rahul, Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, Ajinkya Rahane and Shreyas Iyer have all featured in some game or the other throughout the season. Still the No.1 side in ODI cricket has been unable to find much reliability in that department. The Indian middle order seems as vulnerable as a lost sailor in the Bermuda Triangle.

If anyone can complain of not being given a fair chance to prove his mettle, it is KL Rahul. After three poor innings against Sri Lanka, the right-hander was dropped and hasn’t played a game since.

On the other hand, Dinesh Karthik has been like a leap year addition to the team. Every four years, he’s brought into the XI only to be left out within a few months for inconsistency. Other than a few starts, he hasn’t done anything worth mentioning. Personally, I don’t think he should be considered as a realistic option for the middle order.

Ajinkya Rahane, who was being touted as a reserve opener, has suddenly been drafted as the choice to bat at No.4. While he did well in the first game, he has failed to perform after that. His strike rate hasn’t inspired enough confidence to persist with him there.

Shreyas Iyer can be a potential No.4 for India. While he did well at No.3 in Kohli’s absence, he hasn’t quite got going at No.5. With the top order piling on runs consistently, the youngster hasn’t got much time to settle at the crease. Hence, batting at No.4 will see him play more alongside the top order batsmen and not in a condition where his team is under pressure. The 23-year-old can rotate the strike well and is a dangerous batsman once in flow.

For years, MS Dhoni was the backbone of India’s lower order batting. Now, his indifferent form has hurt the team’s batting prospects. Renowned for his flexibility in batting at different positions according to the team’s requirements, his inconsistency hasn’t helped. For someone who was known in his early days for his powerful strokes, his strike rate has been dismal.

While there is an opinion that he is no longer the finisher he used to be, the team management has hardly given him the license to bat higher up the order. The fact that he came out to bat at No.7 in Port Elizabeth was shocking. A cricketer of his caliber, who’s on the brink of completing 10,000 runs, deserves to come onto the pitch much earlier. He should probably bat at No.5.

The next big problem for India has been the No.6 slot. Kedar Jadhav began brightly with a century in the England series but has faded away as the season progressed. He was India’s prime choice for the No.6 position. Manish Pandey is another interesting choice to bat here as he can get going from the first ball. The 28-year-old is one of the players, like Rahul, who has not been afforded a long run with the team. If Pandey can don the finishing role, a lot of India’s problems will be sorted out. For that, he needs to be given more chances lower down the order.

Of course, Suresh Raina has slowly been regaining his lost touch. India has struggled in his absence from the lower order. The 30-year-old has been picked in the T20I series following his remarkable performance in the domestic tournament. If he can show a glimpse of his vintage form in the opportunities provided, there’s no doubt he’ll be back in the One Day format as well. As of now, rather than looking at probabilities, it will be better if India focused on their current resources to make a difference.

Hardik Pandya has been a huge concern at No.7. For some time since the Champions Trophy, many felt he was the perfect lower order pinch hitter. But his recent form has been disappointing to say the least. It’s high time Pandya shows his finesse in the end. While he has taken the spinners to the cleaners, he will be expected to provide the same treatment to the pacers as well. He needs to work upon his temperament.

With the top order and spinners rising to the occasion, the batting order problems haven’t been highlighted much. However, it continues to be India’s biggest setback in spite of a successful season. Heading on to the 2019 World Cup, Virat Kohli & Co. have to find a solution for their middle order malaise.

India is expected to tour England as well as Australia later this year. If India can crack their batting order in the middle in time, they may well be the team to beat in the World Cup next year.

 

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