Filling in the blank middle-order
CHENNAI: The 50-over game is not a priority for India at the moment. They are preparing and experimenting, with focus on the WT20 which is a year away. The one-day game will become relevant again when the West Indies come over in December. That’s when the team will resume its search for the right men to fix holes in the middle-order, and if Rishabh Pant’s indifferent form continues, a new wicketkeeper as well.
With the India A set-up offering options, that’s where the selectors will look for talents. The Vijay Hazare Trophy beginning today will also offer them a chance to look at players who can graduate to India A. But don’t be surprised if the selectors go back to Manish Pandey as they did for the tour of Caribbean last month.
The selectors saw him as surplus for the World Cup or thought he isn’t cut out for the role, but it took them just a month to fall back on Pandey. If anyone who has made runs consistently in the middle-order for India A — mostly at No 4 — it is the Karnataka batsman. In the last three A series, against teams from Sri Lanka, West Indies and South Africa, he was the lone batsman to score a century while batting in any position lower than No 3.
In recent times, the India A team has also tried out the likes of Ishan Kishan, Ricky Bhui, Prashant Chopra, Deepak Hooda at No 4 when Shreyas Iyer batted No 3. Among them, nobody made a convincing case for himself. Sanju Samson was used as a floater, with no consistency. Like the senior side, it has an abundance of riches at the top. Shubman Gill, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Anmolpreet Singh have all made runs.
The case of Kishan and Samson is interesting. Unlike Srikar Bharat, who wears the big gloves for India A in the four-day format, these two have not been consistent with the bat. As of now, they can’t challenge Pant in the national team and remain a work in progress.
“We have a talented bunch coming through,” said Sitanshu Kotak, India A coach in the aforementioned series. He was not aware of the bigger plan in his interim role, but he focussed on keeping the players match-ready. “Those who come to this level are definitely good. I don’t like to tinker with technique. I look to improve their mindset. I put them through different match situations and see how they react. Shreyas and Manish have been consistent with the A team and are using the opportunity to be match-ready.”
Despite the talent and effort to nurture them, it is no secret that at the senior and domestic level, India are struggling to find a middle-order batsman in the mould of, say Yuvraj Singh. Take the numbers from the previous edition of Vijay Hazare Trophy. The top run-scorer was Abhinav Mukund, who never featured in India’s limited-overs plans.
The next best was Gautam Gambhir, a veteran who has hung his boots. Then came Puneet Bist, Karn Kaushal, Yashpal Singh, KB Pawan, Babul Kumar who played in the D Group featuring teams included in the senior domestic circuit for the first time. The season before that, Mayank Agarwal topped the charts with 723 runs in eight matches, but rest didn’t even touch 400. The next best were Bharat, Cheteshwar Pujara and Hanuma Vihari. None of them have any future with the national side as far as limited-over games go. For hopefuls, this edition couldn’t have come at the right time. Runs is all that they need.