India's middle-order conundrum far from over

Perhaps India needs to try out either K.L. Rahul, who was used as a reserve opener and scored a fifty in the only game he got in the tournament, or Shreyas Iyer or Rishabh Pant in the middle-order at No. 4 in the ODIs against the West Indies next month.

The fact that Mahendra Singh Dhoni is turning into a shadow of the batsman he was at his prime also adds to the middle-order riddle.   -  AP

When India arrived in the Emirates a fortnight ago in two batches, it was in a way symbolic of its objectives for the short tour. One was obviously to win the Asia Cup and ensure its reputation as the best side in the continent. The other was to kick-start the final leg of preparations for the next year’s World Cup, especially with an eye on resolving the middle-order muddle.

As the Men in Blue depart from the city of future in multiple batches having sealed the primary objective – with a last-ball win versus Bangladesh in the final on Friday night – the middle-order conundrum is far from resolved. But India’s management seems to be in a slightly better position to understand how to resolve the conundrum, with no solution in sight at least for now. Captain Rohit Sharma – who continued to impress on the field as a captain in the absence of Virat Kohli – claimed the Asia Cup had made the picture clearer for the management.

READ: 'When it comes to calmness, I am similar to Dhoni'

“I think we pretty much have clarity. Those No.4 and No.6 need to get more games as the World Cup comes closer. It's too early to judge or say they've sealed the spot. I shouldn't be saying that because right now is not the time. Come the World Cup, we'll have a clear picture about it. I think right now as a team, the next few tournaments that we're going to play, I think that will be probably ideal for us to judge as a management to see where they stand as players,” Sharma said after India almost botched up a chase of 223 in the final.

In the absence of Kohli, the tournament saw India predominantly using Ambati Rayudu at No. 3, Dinesh Karthik at 4 and Kedar Jadhav at 6. Both Rayudu and Karthik remained consistent in the Asia Cup but the fact that they failed to capitalise and finish games off when it mattered most indicates that the race for No. 4 continues to be wide open leading into the World Cup.

READ: Rohit's calming influence reflected in his captaincy, says Shastri

The fact that Mahendra Singh Dhoni – who stands out as wicket-keeper and is invaluable with his inputs from behind the stumps irrespective of the captain – is turning into a shadow of the batsman he was at his prime also adds to the middle-order riddle.

The biggest gain in the top six was Jadhav, but more with his slingy off-spin than his batting. Jadhav seldom got an opportunity to finish a game and hurt his right hamstring – not the one that had sidelined him for almost five months recently – when he got one. Though he returned to the crease towards the closing stages to literally help India limp to victory, Jadhav will have to prove his fitness and finishing skills to make No. 6 his own for the World Cup.

Perhaps India needs to try out either K.L. Rahul, who was used as a reserve opener and scored a fifty in the only game he got in the tournament, or Shreyas Iyer or Rishabh Pant in the middle-order at No. 4 in the ODIs versus West Indies next month. Most importantly, whosoever is tried out needs to be given a longer rope to prove his worth, something that was a stand-out feature of Sharma's captaincy in the Asia Cup.

“When we came here, I wanted to give them the assurance first that they will play all the games, that's how you make players. You give them the assurance of going and playing freely, without taking pressure,” Sharma said.

“If you know that after two games you're you’re dropped after two games, it’s not easy for anyone. I think it is important to keep that team consistently going, and that is something that we spoke at the start of the tournament and I wanted to give everybody a fair run and play more games. That’s how you will understand a player's capability. Because in one-odd game you can't judge, you need quite a few games.”

Sounds like much different than the horses-for-courses theory used for the last couple of years, right? It's time to show faith in the studs.