Will Anil Kumble and Virat Kohli be able to ignore the buzz around their rapport and work with the team they’ve built together? © AFP
Anil Kumble has to go through a fresh interview process to prove his credentials as head coach of India. Virat Kohli, having suffered – by his own admission – the most horrendous IPL, returns to the country where he was humbled on his last visit. Of the batsmen in the Indian squad, only Shikhar Dhawan finished in the top ten run-makers’ list in IPL 2017. R Ashwin, India’s premier spinner, missed the IPL and has not played a competitive ODI match since the series against England in January.
While there might be cause for some pessimism, there is also a lot to be optimistic about. India are the defending champions, for starters. Nine out of the 15 were part of the squad that won the title in 2013. Kohli’s side is more experienced than any other, and each of his batsmen can win matches on their own.
More importantly, India have fast bowlers that can overpower batsmen in various conditions. In India’s warm-up games, the quartet of Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav shot out both New Zealand and Bangladesh without breaking a sweat. India also have the luxury of a seam-bowling allrounder in Hardik Pandya, who struck a brutal unbeaten 80 off 54 balls against Bangladesh.
However, some questions remain. They have to pick out the best opening combination from their three primary options: Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane. On the basis of performance, only Dhawan seems to be a given on the teamsheet. Rahane looked stiff and failed to take off in the warm-ups. Rohit arrived late to the camp and faced three balls in his only innings.
Yuvraj Singh, who has not played in England since the World T20 in 2009, was laid low by a viral fever. If he is picked in the XI, should he bat at No. 4 before MS Dhoni or should it be the other way round? If Hardik is picked, should India go with two other fast bowlers or drop a spinner to play three?
Kumble and Kohli will need to figure the answers to these questions first. Then then can they bother about proving a point to their detractors.
Champions Trophy history
1998 – Semi-final
2000 – Runner-up
2002 – Joint-champions (with Sri Lanka)
2004 – Group stage
2006 – Group stage
2009 – Group stage
2013 – Champions
India have not played too much one-day cricket since the 2015 World Cup, but they have won their last three ODI series. They wrapped up the away series in Zimbabwe and followed it with victories against New Zealand and England during their home season.
India have the most experienced batting order. They also bat deep and have the luxury of five allrounders in Yuvraj, Kedar Jadhav, Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Hardik.
Bhuvneshwar is the best death bowler in limited-overs cricket, according to Steven Smith; Bumrah is not far behind either. Shami and Umesh can combine velocity with reverse swing when the ball gets old.
The emergence of Jadhav and Hardik as capable batsmen has bolstered India’s lower-middle order. Previously that burden fell solely on the shoulders of Dhoni, who had made it clear upon stepping down as ODI captain last year that the baton of the finisher needed to be passed to younger hands.
Performances against New Zealand and England have given Kohli confidence in the Jadhav-Hardik. But despite those efforts at home, and Hardik’s imperious innings in the warm-up, the jury will be out on them as finishers in these conditions. There is also the question of whether Hardik can assert himself as a bowler in England on his first visit there. Can he adjust to the conditions and quickly understand the lengths he needs to bowl?
27 – The number of ODIs played by India since the 2015 World Cup – the least by any of the eight participants in the Champions Trophy.
74.00 – Dhawan’s average in England, the best among all players in the tournament (minimum 500 runs) since 2012
2007 – A decade since Yuvraj last played an ODI in England
Stats inputs by Gaurav Sundararaman
Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo