A few days in the lap of the Himalayas must have done a world of good for the Men in Blue. The break after Sunday’s triumphant World Cup contest against New Zealand at Dharamsala’s HPCA Stadium helped the players unwind. Some like K.L. Rahul dipped their feet in cold mountain streams.
It was all pastoral and nice, and there was a touch of Ruskin Bond in the air with the slow life being embraced. But now it is time to get sweaty and inflate the laundry bills with team apparel put through the wringer in practice sessions in the days leading up to Sunday’s clash at the Ekana Stadium here against England.
With a cloud of uncertainty lingering around Hardik Pandya’s bruised left ankle, India could step in with a playing eleven similar to the one that turned out against the Black Caps. That Hardik’s absence needed to be filled with two candidates - a pure batter in Suryakumar Yadav and an original bowler in Mohammed Shami - reveals how much balance the all-rounder lends to the squad.
Shardul Thakur’s omission was collateral damage in the wake of Hardik’s exit as the team had no luxury to field the Mumbaikar, known for effecting breakthroughs and equally notorious for leaking runs, a flaw he masks with handy blows while batting.
If the surface here promises warmth to the slow men, then R. Ashwin could be a contender. That Kuldeep Yadav had a diffident start against New Zealand before pulling back a few may also weigh on the team management’s mind. England is at a low ebb but does have batters, who love a good biff, and Ashwin, with his spells against Chris Gayle and company in the IPL over the years, could be a good counterpoint. As for the other spinner Ravindra Jadeja, his spot is set in stone. Bowling tight, fielding like a dream and chipping in valuable runs, Jadeja is a massive asset.
Besides the selection migraines that Hardik’s expected absence stirs up, India needs to be wary about the law of averages. Remaining undefeated in five games and hoping to extend this winning momentum, Rohit Sharma’s men have varied opponents glaring at them on the road ahead. England, Sri Lanka, South Africa and finally the Netherlands, all nurse their fantasies about embarrassing the host.
Even during India’s scorching championship run in the 2011 edition, South Africa offered the banana peel at Nagpur despite Sachin Tendulkar’s brilliance and England held India to a tie at Bengaluru. Extended league phases work both ways. Squads can shed kinetic energy and lapse into a fatal hibernation, or teams, like what Australia is doing now, could gain a second wind.
India got its first part right and now the second act shimmers into view with Lucknow, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru being the venues. Rohit’s men have to amplify their efforts and also offer fodder for those warm behind-the-scenes videos from a happy dressing room.
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