“It will be interesting to see who all get a nod; the race is evenly poised”

The stage for an enthralling Asia Cup is all set; the tournament resumes to its conventional 50-over format after some tinkering (T20) in the previous edition. India at the moment are battling it out in the ultimate Test against England in a bid to end the tour on a winning note. They are the defending champions of Asia Cup and one can expect them to leave no stone unturned in their preparations and come out hard this time. India’s huge setback would be the absence of their premier batsman Virat Kohli, but they still have enough ammunition in their artillery to defend the title. India have been a formidable shorter formats side and a force to be reckoned with, but didn’t have a great time in the ODI series in England.

India did put up a fight, but lost the three-match series 2-1. This was also the first time since January 2016 that India lost a bilateral series. India have won nine out 10 ODI series since 2016 and the only defeat came against England. They were also the runners-up in the ICC Champions Trophy last year.

India’s top-order has been breathing fire for a very long time; they probably have the best top three in the world with the presence of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. They shoulder a lot of responsibility with the bat and garner runs on a consistent basis. India have banked heavily on their top-order, which has camouflaged the weaknesses in their middle-order. In the Asia Cup, the absence of Kohli in the top-order will only add to India’s trouble. He has been the top run-scorer in ODIs since 2015 World Cup, scoring 3242 runs at an astonishing average of 79.07 including 13 tons and 15 half-centuries.

India have announced their 16-man squad for the big league and the contenders for No.3 and middle-order spots are – KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, Kedar Jadhav and Ambati Rayudu. One can be assured about MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya’s spot in the playing XI in the initial stages, to say the least. In England, India’s middle-order failed to make an impact and the other teams have taken a good note of this.

Let’s take a look at the recent run of these batsmen and how good a chance they stand in the playing XI. In the absence of Kohli, one can expect the race for No. 3 spot to revolve around KL Rahul and Ambati Rayudu. KL Rahul has been having a terrible run in England so far. This is no less than a nightmare for the elegant right-handed batsman as his willow has failed to fire in the series. His parched runs column in the Test series has already started raising questions on his place in the side. But ODI is a different ball game altogether and one can expect India to gamble with him for the No. 3 spot.

Ambati Rayudu failed the YoYo test after being named for the England tour. He has been in good touch and has plethora of experience in his kitty. He has scored two fifties and a 48 in his last four List A encounters, which is an indication of his good form. Rayudu could be a good option for No. 3 spot if Rahul is not given a go. Nevertheless, he is a versatile player and could be effective in any other position. Rayudu was one of the key reasons behind Chennai Super Kings’ successful campaign in the IPL, where he batted in the top-order.

Talking about Manish Pandey, one can expect him to take guard at 4. His willow has been spilling fire in the domestic circuit and has scored runs at will. He has remained unbeaten in his last four List A outings, where he scored a century and two fifties. He has been knocking the doors for a while now and Asia Cup would be an ideal platform for him to cement his spot in the line—up. For a very long time now, India have struggled to fill that No.4 spot and has experimented with quite a few players including Pandey. This could be his series.

Dinesh Karthik brings experience to the table; he has been in the Indian side for a fair amount of time. He failed to make an impact in the solitary ODI in England, where he scored 21. His run in the Test series too has been ordinary. But going by the reputation and ability to step up in crunch situations, one can expect Karthik to make the cut in the middle-order.

Kedar Jadhav is another strong candidate in this race for the middle-order. His performance in the domestic circuit recently has not been something to talk about though, but has proved his worth in the past. He picked up an injury during the South African tour and then another one in the IPL. He has the potential and has been prolific while batting at 6, averaging 58.77 in 19 games. With Dhoni being in the twilight of his career and not inspiring similar confidence, Jadhav’s presence will add the needed firepower.

India’s middle-order has been a little vulnerable in the recent times. In last 24 months, MS Dhoni is leading the charts, but the strike rate is a little on the slower side. In fact, the kind of firepower Dhoni is widely reckoned for has gone for a toss. The tables below analyse their run in the recent time.

India’s middle-order in last 24 months

Players Matches Runs HS Average SR 100 50
13 43 3579 150 36.89 90.88 3 19

The table below represents players performance in the recent time.

 India’s 4-7 in last 24 months

Players Matches Runs Average SR 100
MS Dhoni 43 1128 51.27 80.00 1
Kedar Jadhav 33 652 38.35 109.57 1
H Pandya 38 625 29.76 115.74 0
Yuvraj Singh 11 372 41.33 98.67 1
M Pandey 15 247 27.44 84.87 0
Dinesh Karthik 9 204 51.00 71.83 0
A Rahane 6 140 35.00 76.92 0
A Patel 4 79 26.33 98.75 0
Shreyas Iyer 3 48 24.00 82.75 0
Suresh Raina 3 47 23.50 70.14 0
KL Rahul 5 33 11.00 63.46 0
Virat Kohli 1 4 4.00 200.00 0
Jasprit Bumrah 1

It will be interesting to see who all get a nod; the race is evenly poised. In a sense, Kohli’s absence is a boon to these players; they could make the most of this opportunity and make their presence unavoidable for the future. With the World Cup being just a few months away, this tournament will certainly provide a clear picture and provide answers to a few questions related to the line-up.

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