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India wait for batters other than Rohit, Virat to take charge | Cricket


India wait for batters other than Rohit, Virat to take charge | Cricket

Five matches, five chases, five convincing wins. It’s been a near-perfect campaign so far for India at the ODI World Cup. With a number of upsets in the first half of the league stage and teams jostling mid-table, India are well-placed to stroll into the semi-finals.

India's captain Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli during the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2023 (PTI)
India’s captain Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli during the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 (PTI)

Rohit Sharma’s team will face England, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Netherlands in their remaining league games, starting with Sunday’s clash against the holders. While all four opponents can be tricky, the match against South Africa could prove to be toughest.

The Proteas now head the points table after six games, following Friday’s thrilling victory over Pakistan. Their net run rate (2.032) is far better than second-placed India (1.353). For the hosts, to finish on top of the table get to face the fourth-placed team in the semi-finals, a win against South Africa on November 5 could be vital.

A lot has gone right for India, especially their bowling that has helped set up the wins. However, there is one aspect in which the two-time champions will hope to find improvement.

Of the 1,201 runs that India have scored so far (includes extras), 665 have been scored by Rohit Sharma (311) and Virat Kohli (354) — 55.37% of the total runs. The two are also the only India batters to score centuries. In contrast, South Africa have had four centurions – Quinton de Kock (3), Heinrich Klaasen, Aiden Markram and Rassie van der Dussen.

To have all bases covered heading into the knockouts, India will hope the other batters, especially Shreyas Iyer, bat longer, cash in on their starts.

Shubman Gill and Iyer have both looked impressive, playing cracking shots each yime they’ve batted. At the same time, they have also given away their wickets rather easily more than once.

Iyer has shown some improvement against the short ball, but that hasn’t stopped bowlers from testing him with it. After playing a nothing shot to be dismissed against Australia, leaving India tottering at 2/3, the batter did well to remain unbeaten on 25 and 53 against Afghanistan and Pakistan respectively. But against Bangladesh and New Zealand, he failed to capitalise on his starts, caught in the deep on the leg side both times. Against New Zealand he failed Boult’s short-ball test, hitting straight to deep square leg.

After missing the first two games due to illness, Gill returned for the Pakistan clash and scored 16, all through boundaries, before a powerful cut to backward point found the fielder. He was upset with himself as the pitch was good and India were chasing just 192.

Against Bangladesh, India were in a tricky situation chasing 257 after Gill, having scored a half-century, miscued to deep mid-wicket. Against New Zealand too he went a bit too hard and was caught at third man with Sharma’s dismissal two overs earlier requiring a phase of consolidation.

All six of these dismissals, of Gill and Iyer, came as a result of aggressive strokes that weren’t needed at those moments. India have tried to play a positive brand of cricket of late, but there ought to be a more effective method to it. The younger batters need not look further than Sharma and Kohli, who’ve operated with great responsibility and stuck to their roles in the batting order.

“Rohit bhai has been batting exceptionally well,” said Gill before India’s last game against New Zealand. “He’s been going all guns blazing, especially while chasing, and that’s giving us the right momentum. When the required rate comes down to four or five, it becomes easier for the batters who are coming in.

“I always try to learn by seeing how they (Sharma and Kohli) go about their business in big games. I think there’s a fine line when it comes to being too aggressive or going into a shell. So, just their mindset during big occasions like the World Cup is what I try to learn from.”

At the 2019 World Cup, India relied greatly on their top three – Shikhar Dhawan, Sharma and Kohli – and were found wanting eventually. This time, there has been more stability in terms of the middle order, and the advantage of home conditions, but until now batters other than the two seniormost haven’t taken charge, apart from KL Rahul guiding India to victory in the first game against Australia, finishing 97 not out.

It isn’t a pressing concern for India though as they’ve cruised along so far. And the manner in which Gill and Iyer have accumulated their runs too has been high class. But taking ownership and getting the job done for the team can take confidence to a different level.

Before the knockouts come around, India will hope more of their batters gain that.

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