It has been just over a year since India suffered that heart-breaking loss to New Zealand in the World Cup semi-finals, but memories of that defeat still linger in the minds of Indian cricket fans.
New Zealand blew away India’s top order, ripping the heart out of their batting unit. India needed a middle order hero, but could not find one.
The men in blue had finished top of the league phase of the World Cup, and were favourites to take out New Zealand, who entered the semi-finals on the back of three consecutive defeats, and looked to have run out of steam after a strong start to the tournament.
Many cricket betting sites had India as odds on favourites to win the match.
However, a day that began with so much promise ended in tears and despair. India’s failure can be attributed to a number of reasons, but a fragile and untested middle order stands out amongst their troubles. It was a familiar old failing.
This had been a problem in the years leading up to the World Cup, and the fact that the selectors failed to effectively address it was quite baffling. They basically went into the tournament without a plan for the middle order, especially the No. 4 position.
And when their fearsome top order failed woefully against New Zealand in the semis, India’s remarkable negligence was horribly exposed.
At 5 for 3, with Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli back in the shed, who do India turn to? Vijay Shankar? Rishabh Pant? Dinesh Karthik? MS Dhoni? Hardik Pandya?
Eventually they settled for Pant. Like a rabbit in the headlights, the youngster huffed and puffed his way to 32 off 56 before throwing his wicket away. India did make a feast of it towards the end, with Ravindra Jadeja threatening a miracle with his enterprising 77, but the damage had been done at the top.
If India were 200 for 3, Pant at No. 4 would have made sense as he could come in and blast a few into the crowd, but the New Zealand situation demanded a steadier head. Someone with the technique and the temperament to assess the situation and reconstruct an innings.
Maybe Ambati Rayudu, who was strangely left out of the squad despite being the most obvious candidate, could have done the job? Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but India clearly did not cover all their bases. They did not plan for the New Zealand scenario.
It does appear that the selectors have learnt their lessons. The ODI team has had a steady No. 4 in the last year, with Shreyas Iyer emerging as the man for the role. The Mumbai batsman has batted at No. 4 in eight of the last nine ODIs. Iyer is a proper batsman, capable of building an innings, and accelerating the run rate.
Hopefully, he won’t be thrown out of the team at the slightest hint of a drop in form. They look a lot better with him at No. 4.
As for the other middle order roles, Pant and Pandya appear to be the long-term options for 5 and 6, while Jadeja has definitely got one more World Cup in him. He’s a very handy No. 7.
If India are to win the World Cup in 2023, they have got to solve their middle order problems, and have a more settled line up. Each player must develop into his role, and have a perfect understanding of what is required in every situation.