Is India’s ODI top six loaded with too many right-handers at the moment? Former head coach Ravi Shastri seems to think so and would like to see at least two left-handers in India’s top six for the ODI World Cup later this year.
“You need to strike the right balance. Do you think a left-hander will make a difference at the top? It does not have to be opening, but in the top three or four. You have to weigh all those options. Ideally, in the top six, I would like to see two left-handers,” Shastri told The Week.
With Rishabh Pant not playing any competitive cricket this year due to injuries suffered in a car accident, India have lost a key left-hander in one-day cricket. They have gone with Ishan Kishan for a few games this year. Ravindra Jadeja is another option but he doesn’t have a lot of experience batting in the top six. Yashasvi Jaiswal made it to India’s Test squad for the West Indies series, but his name remained absent from the ODI list.
The World Cup is set to start on October 5. Pant, if he gets fit in time, will likely get his place back, but what are the other left-handed options?
“You have Ishan Kishan. In the wicketkeeping department, you have Sanju [Samson]. But the left-handers, you have [Yashasvi] Jaiswal, Tilak Varma. There is enough left-handed talent that can replace any senior player at the moment.”
Shastri was also adamant that India needed to form a pool of youngsters and get them in the mix ahead of the World Cup. While he voiced concerns about India’s red-ball depth, he was pretty happy with talent coming through in white-ball cricket.
“There are so many youngsters. There is Jaiswal and, I might miss out a few here, Tilak Varma, Nehal Wadhera. There is [Sai] Sudharsan, who played so well in the [IPL] final. There is Jitesh Sharma,” he said.
“Among the bowlers, there is a crop of young fast bowlers. Quite a few, there is Mukesh [Kumar], names do not come to my mind now. But, there are at least four or five who can be groomed around that 135kmph-140kmph mark. So I am not worried about the talent in white-ball.
“You have a lot of injuries these days. I always like a pool of 15-20. You should always be prepared, you should have a plan B, plan C.”
Another name that Shastri was quite vocal about was Sanju Samson. The Kerala batter has been in and out of the India side but has been included in the squad for the ODIs in the West Indies next month. Shastri likened Samson to a young Rohit Sharma and felt the wicketkeeper-batter could be the “match-winner” India are looking for.
“There is Sanju [Samson], who I believe is yet to realise his potential. He is a match-winner. There is something that is missing. I will be disappointed if he does not finish his career all guns blazing. It is like when I was the coach, I would have been disappointed if Rohit Sharma had not played in my side as a regular Test player. Hence, his opening the batting. I feel similar with Sanju,” he said.
“Because of the IPL, you see an abundance of high-quality, young, white-ball players. But, one should not get carried away by that and think they should be automatic red-ball choices”
Shastri felt that with a number of youngsters ready to knock the door down, India should get started on succession planning. “There are seniors ready to be phased out and there are youngsters ready. No question about it when it comes to T20 cricket. Lesser in 50-over cricket and even fewer in Tests,” he said.
“Because of the IPL, you see an abundance of high-quality, young, white-ball players. But, one should not get carried away by that and think they should be automatic red-ball choices. No, I would rather see the red-ball record. I would sit with the selectors and find out more about who the [red-ball performances] were against, in what conditions, what are their strengths, what is the temperament of the bloke like.
“For me, temperament is key. It is paramount. Does the guy have the stomach for a fight? When it gets hot in the kitchen, is he is ready to bite the bullet? These are qualities I look for in a [Test] player. When I use the word fearless as a coach, these are the qualities that make a fearless cricketer. Backing his own ability and his strengths, and not wavering.
“Luckily for India, the volume of players that play the game, compared with other countries, [is high]. I think you should always have a strong bench across formats.”
Shastri was confident that India go into the ODI World Cup at home as favourites, and could “win this one” if they got the balance of the side right. “They are playing at home. I think they are one of the favourites. I am telling you now; I think they can win this one. Provided they get the right balance of experience and youth. And there is enough time to identify the squad that you want. And if you get your full-strength side, I think India are favourites, with England and Australia.”