India’s middle order has created a constant buzz in the country. Initially, a lot was going on in the Indian dugout as the team management was short of players for the crucial middle order, but the T20 and ODI series in New Zealand have proven that the middle-order has been the lynch pin of Indian batting.
The year started with the selectors finding it tough to figure out which players to play as the openers and the scenario quickly shifted to finding openers for the team in the New Zealand ODI series.
KL Rahul played as the opener alongside Rohit Sharma in the T20 series and was shifted to the 5th position when it came to the ODI series.
Mayank Agrawal and Prithvi Shaw were given a chance when Shikhar and Rohit were out due to injuries and this was one of the major reasons why the Indian team failed against New Zealand.
India’s top-order couldn’t sustain themselves for more than 5-7 overs per match in the series, and the pressure would build on the captain and the middle-order batsmen.
Even though this might be considered as a team failure, but this was an opportunity for the middle-order to find their place in the team and own the position and that’s what Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul did in the series.
The absence of the regular top-order batsmen gave the chance to the men in-form to perform extraordinarily for the team and India’s middle-order accepted the changes with both the hands.
It was a series where the coach and team management witnessed the competency of the middle-order that has been framed currently.
Even the captain didn’t feel like taking the pressure and left it for the middle-order batsmen to take care of.
Ravindra Jadeja was exceptional with the ball and he was there for the team at the lower end to handle the innings as a batsman.
The earlier decision of team management to shift KL down the order might not have been taken to solve the middle-order crisis but it has solved the root cause of one of the most prolonged problems in the Indian team.
The positioning of Shreyas Iyer at 4 and KL Rahul at 5 is perfect but the sustainability that the middle-order needs are an important role of the batman who comes to bat No. 6 position and Manish Pandey is the best fit for the role.
Even though the team lost this series, the team management and selectors might have killed two birds with one stone.
Team India played without their regular openers in the ODI series and their core strength was the middle-order where Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul would handle the innings and play the role of finishers alongside.
This is a good thing for the Indian team as when the regular squad returns from injury, the team will be more stronger than ever.
The openers were new to the international game and couldn’t perform to that extent but the only thing that disappointed the fans was the Indian bowling line-up.
The bowling was too weak for the opponents and their batsmen took the most advantage of an unstable bowling attack led by Jasprit Bumrah, who couldn’t manage to take a single wicket in the ODI series.
The issue in-hand is the lack of maturity that forced the two young openers to give their wickets early in the session and this was the root cause of the slow run rate in the Indian innings.
Where did the openers go wrong?
Photo Source: ICC
Virat Kohli’s decision to shift KL Rahul to the 5th position in ODI cricket and introduce 2 new openers was quite surprising for the fans as KL had shown sheer class opening for the team in the T20 series.
Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw got a chance to make their debut in the ODI squad as they opened in the first match.
This was a surprising touch as even the two failed to get some runs on the board Virat didn’t replace them and gave them time on the field to settle down.
This decision might also work for future endeavors as Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan will open the innings as usual and someone needs to be there for the role of a finisher and KL Rahul possesses all the qualities of a great finisher.
The opening pair could have tried to stay longer than they did in the series had they been more patient on the field and scored along with momentum.
It does not matter how strong a team is when the players opening the line-up don’t stick around for long and that’s what happened with the Indian batting in the series.
Even though KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer handled the innings perfectly, the right start the team needed was missing and the openers weren’t able to lay off the innings.
Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw combined scored a total of 120 runs in the three-match series and there were only two occasions where one of the batsmen scored more than 30 runs.
Virat Kohli too wasn’t in form and was unable to lead the team from the front like he usually does.
With the current openers injured and Virat Kohli not-in-form, the middle-order emerged out brilliantly and strengthened the Indian batting line-up to reach somewhere.
Batting Prowess of Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul
Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul were the two batsmen on whom the Indian team depended sole heartedly and they stood on what was expected of them.
Indian fans were more concerned about Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul’s wickets than they were for Virat Kohli’s wicket.
The two youngsters showed their batting prowess in the T20 series and the ODI series was a result of that.
KL Rahul shifted from the position of an opener in the T20 series to the No. 5 position while Shreyas Iyer is now the official owner of the No. 4 position.
KL Rahul scored a fantastic 88* off just 64 deliveries in the first ODI match and escalated the team innings to the finish line, whereas Shreyas Iyer scored a mesmerizing knock of 103 to stable the Indian innings.
The players went on to score fantastically and Shreyas scored a total of 217 in the three matches whereas KL scored a total of 204 runs.
These were the two batsmen on whom the team depended the most and they did great work in covering for the injured openers and out-of-form captain.
For his shift from an opener to a middle-order batsman, KL Rahul had to learn the techniques and for that, he said, “I watched a lot of videos of AB [de Villiers] and Steve Smith to learn how they build up their innings. Kane Williamson is somebody I’ve tried to go back and watch some of his videos. The only thing I’m trying to learn is how I can use my game and be better in a certain situation. Reading of the game has got a lot better for me now that I’ve played in different positions and batting becomes a lot more enjoyable.” KL Rahul became the first Indian to score a century coming down at number five or below against New Zealand in ODI cricket.
KL Rahul is that man in the team right now who is up for any role.
Virat Kohli would not want to drop KL Rahul from the playing XI | Image Credits: Telegraph India
He can open the innings brilliantly, he can bat the positions 3, 4 and 5.
He took up wicket-keeping when Rishabh Pant was injured and since then KL is the regular keeper of team India.
So, right now KL is the one-man-band and Shreyas Iyer is the lead singer of an Opera. The two batsmen are having an exceptional run on the field and we all hope that they continue to exhibit sheer class on the field and take the team to newer heights.
Manish Pandey: The perfect lower middle-order batsman
Image Credits: ICC
If we have to choose one player who was the most underrated in the New Zealand tour, it has to be Manish Pandey.
The lower middle-order batsman, Pandey came to bat at No. 6 position and was up for any situation.
He relished according to the situation and proved his captain and the team management his real worth.
In the T20 series, Manish didn’t get much time on the field as a batsman, but he remained not out in all the 5 matches.
Pandey is an exceptional player and has been a part of the Indian team in previous matches too.
In the T20 series, when the team was in desperate need of a player who could handle the pressure while batting down the order, Manish Pandey handled the case perfectly.
His brilliant knock of 50* in the fourth T20 match was just sheer class and the player should have been in the ODI squad in the first two matches as well.
In the last ODI, Pandey built a crucial partnership with KL Rahul to create a momentum in the innings.
Manish Pandey is the missing batsman that Team India needs while batting down the order.
He has been brilliant throughout the New Zealand tour and the fans would want to see the batsman in the upcoming matches.
His position in the team now depends on his performance in the Indian Premier League and hopefully, he will bat wonderfully for Sunrisers Hyderabad too.
What did the Indian team gain from this series?
Image Credits: Navbharat times
India has developed as a team with a strong middle-order and that is the only gain from the series.
Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer, and KL Rahul are in their best form and this is the time that these players will go for something big and Team India will benefit from the brilliant run these three have had.
It has been a delight for the Indian fans to watch these cricketers and it will be great if they continue to perform for the team.
Even though Team India lost the series, the management can be certain of one thing that they have now clarity on the position of players and how they bat according to the situations.
When the injured openers return, this team will be as extraordinary it can be but only if the bowling attack improves.
Let us all enjoy the game and witness the players create some records while we support them in their good and bad form.
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