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NZ series first step towards India’s World Cup preparation | Cricket

India will host the ODI World Cup in less than 12 months. Realistically, this is their best chance of winning a World Cup, not only because they are playing at home, but also because it seems to be the format for which their natural style of play is best suited. But the structure of World Cup cycles is such that one-day races have been on the back burner since 2019. the 2019 World Cup, Shreyas Iyer (27 games), Virat Kohli (26) and KL Rahul (22) are the other three who have played in more than 20 games in this time.

With India hosting, they automatically qualify for the World Cup and don’t have to think about the Super League points table they currently lead. So the focus will clearly be on figuring out the final 15. And that’s going to be a headache as India looks top heavy again with Dhawan, Iyer and Rishabh Pant going to question the top three consisting of Rohit Sharma, Kohli and Rahul . Who opens and who will be the backup opener? Who will be the all-rounders and how will Jasprit Bumrah and Ravindra Jadeja be included in this pack as they recover from their injuries? These questions and more need to be answered as India gets to work on playing the first three of the 21 ODIs they will play until next year’s World Cup.

Top shelf puzzle

The World Cup is held on fields where the boundaries are not great, the fields are slow and the outfields are fast. The current series will be played in almost contrasting circumstances without Sharma, Kohli and Rahul, but India’s Dhawan and Shubman Gill have a formidable opening pair with three-century stands in eight matches.

Gill is a curious case of a phenomenal talent who has only been housed in ODIs (apart from Tests) from the start. Whatever opportunity he gets, Gill took full advantage of it. In 10 matches since the 2019 World Cup, Gill has scored 563 points at an average of 70.37 and a strike rate of 105.82. A few more similar innings and it would be hard to overlook him in the long run. Equally interesting is the way Dhawan’s case is being handled as he was not part of the 2019 World Cup squad. He has a healthy average (45.84) but is considerably slower (SR of 82.83) since the World Cup 2019. Kohli (91.12), Rahul (95.62) and Sharma (96.11) have better hit rates, but this format can still hold at least one anchor if the other top-class hitters can accelerate over time. If the new selectors are to strike a balance by picking Dhawan for the World Cup, a conundrum of the highest order is inevitable.

Who are the all-rounders?

This automatically determines the middle order. And given the mess India had caused by sticking with Vijay Shankar for the 2019 World Cup, they would do well to go through as many options as possible. Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja will be trusted to share at least 10 overs if two specialist fast bowlers (Bumrah and Shami/Arshdeep?) and two specialist spinners (Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravichandran Ashwin/Axar Patel?) are selected. Deepak Hooda deserves to be seen as another sixth bowling option, as do Washington Sundar, Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur – all named in the squad for this series. So here too the management has the work off their hands.

Six bowling options including two all-rounders; five specialist hitters, three of them top-class, should make up the eleven at a home ODI World Cup. That basically leaves two middle order bats, one of which is Yadav. Logic says Pant who is vice-captain for this New Zealand series should be the other person as he is the wicket-keeper, bats left-handed and is generally a more reliable option in 50-overs cricket as he gets more time to sit down and go ballistic like only he can. That means that neither Iyer, nor Sanju Samson or Hooda have a realistic chance of playing in the World Cup. So this series is a good chance to increase their visibility in every possible way.

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