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Asia Cup 2018: Will A Nervy Indian ODI Middle Order Gain Prominence?

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The Indian cricket team suffered a reality check with its middle order being asked questions in the ongoing Asia Cup 2018, Super Four match against Afghanistan.
From 110/0, India lost 10 wickets for 142 runs to tie the game in a dead-rubber contest. Now all focus will be against Bangladesh in the finale on September 28.
India hasn’t been asked many questions as far the middle order is concerned in the Asia Cup, but time and time again we have witnessed a blip whenever the scenario arrived. Remember the series against England months earlier? India suffered middle order crisis back then to surrender the series.
It is an interesting phase in India’s ODI cricket chapter at the moment. There are plenty of options out there, yet the middle order looks unsettled and there are questions to be answered. Given that the ICC World Cup 2019 is just 8 months away, India has to address their issues in the line-up as soon as possible. We are getting a rough picture of what it may look like, but things can change with time.
Here we analyse the situation India are in at the moment and what could be the likely outcome in coming time.

India have been protected by the top order

Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan is considered as one of the best opening pair globally.

As far as ODI cricket is concerned, India has been largely benefitted by its opening batsmen. Time and time again, the duo of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have won matches for Men in Blue after scoring piles of runs together. The Asia Cup too has witnessed the same.
India enjoyed easy wins in the continental event due to the work done by the openers. Against Afghanistan too, the likes of KL Rahul and Ambati Rayudu did a solid job after adding runs atop at a quick pace.
Then comes in Virat Kohli. He might have been rested for the ongoing tournament, but the skipper has scored enormous runs for the team in this position. He has been amongst the runs and has stood out alongside the openers. He scored aplenty against South Africa and helped India win there.
Going into the World Cup, the onus will be on the trio to score runs once again and lay the foundation.

Can India get the best out of Rayudu?

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Rayudu is a busy player (Image: Deccan Chronicle)

With the consistent performances, Rayudu has shown one and all that he is certainly a front-runner for the vacant middle-order spots for the mega tourney in England. Rayudu has overcome the fitness issues he had post- IPL and looks a strong bet in the side.
The versatile player can come and put in a shift in a number of positions. In the Asia Cup, he came in at number three and got the runs. Against Afghanistan, he opened the innings and scored a fifty in that position as well.
So when Kohli returns to the side, Rayudu will be shifted to number 4 in all probability. In England,  Rayudu has a good record and averages 117.00 at a strike-rate of 81.81. He has the credentials to make that spot his own and he knows this is a crucial juncture for him to make it count.
India cannot waste someone like a Rayudu and needs to get the best out of him. The number 4 position has been a tricky one for India, and now someone needs to take charge.

India’s middle order struggled in England

The prime reason why India lost the series against England was that of the weakness in the middle order. Suresh Raina was brought into the team in place of Rayudu and asked to come in at number 3. He didn’t take his chances and was subsequently dropped.
Also, the loss of regular wickets meant that the major responsibility lied with MS Dhoni to steer the ship. India cannot afford to repeat instances of that seen in England. That’s where Rayudu and then MSD need to come at their best.
We will see a lot of these two in the double ODI series against Australia in early 2019. An idea will come out from that. Then there is Dinesh Karthik, who has done well in the few chances he has got. DK needs to be ready to take command at number 4 or 5 whenever called upon.
India gave chances to many players in the last 1-2 years to impress in the middle order. But very few took them. Therefore going into a crucial phase, experimentation needs to stop.

What is MSD’s position?

This is a big question to answer for the management. What is Dhoni’s ideal position? The player hasn’t been among runs off late and there is a dry patch of sorts. He isn’t the finisher he was years ago anymore. So number 6 or 7 isn’t his forte.
Therefore Dhoni could ideally come in at number 5. He needs to spend time in the middle and keep the score ticking along. The question arises is that can he provide the solidity in batting? Being a champion that he is, we hope MS gets back to form and gives it his best.

Who are India’s finishers?

Kedar Jadhav at number 6 makes sense given he is likely to feature. He hasn’t been tested yet with the bat at large in the Asia Cup, but the player has the pedigree to provide stability. He is set to be followed by Hardik Pandya at 7.
Now can these two players act as prime finishers in the side? They will have an interesting phase ahead especially in Australia where their credentials will be put to test. The team needs to back them and put their trust. This means that DK will have to sit out and warm the bench.

How will India’s batting likely to look in the World Cup?

We have given a rough estimate about how the line-up would look up till number 7. The pieces are there and now the team needs to organise the same. DK and KL Rahul are the likely players to act as support cast. Both have the credentials to give the side balance.
Manish Pandey has been a regular squad member since quite some time. He too is in the mix. But come World Cup, with just 15 slots available in the squad, Manish could be at the exit door. Therefore any hopes surrounding Ajinkya Rahane, Shreyas Iyer and Suresh Raina look bleak. India will be focusing their teams now keeping the Cup in mind.

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