Captain Kohli and Coach Shastri’s Road to World Cup 2019

Suraj Barjatya’s epic multi-starrer would pale in comparison to the drama that went right down the wire up to the announcement of Team India’s head coach. We all can heave a sigh of relief now that it is finally over with Ravi Shastri being named as the head coach.

Shastri’s appointment should bring a much needed closure to the Kumble-Kohli rift and the focus should shift towards cricket and the challenges that Indian team faces. With Kohli & co. getting what they wanted, the pressure will be on them to perform.

India next embarks to Sri Lanka, South Africa, England and Australia while playing some home matches in between and everything will culminate in the 2019 ODI World Cup in England. Kohli and Shastri have a lot to sort out between now and the World Cup.

Tough Away Tours

India’s claim to the no. 1 Test ranking will be challenged on some tough away tours

Shastri’s reign will oversee three tough away tours – South Africa, Australia and England. India have never won a Test series in South Africa and Australia. The last time they won in England was back in 2007. The recent two trips to England (2011 and 2014) ended in agony, for the captain and coach alike.

If Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan are indeed selected as batting and bowling consultants respectively for away tours, it will augur well for the team. However, the team management will need to use them wisely. Dravid was batting consultant on India’s tour of England in 2014, but the Indian batting and especially Virat Kohli failed spectacularly on that tour. Hence it is important that the BCCI must make sure that these two legends work with the team for substantial period during the year, while discussing contracts for them.

Barring just 5 Tests at home, India will spend most part of the next two years on away tours where the team’s claim to the no.1 Test ranking will be under scrutiny. Hence the services of these two stalwarts will be absolutely essential in getting positive results.

Team Balance in Limited Overs

The Men in Blue have plenty of nagging problems to solve which have become prominent after the Champions Trophy failure and the recent losses in the West Indies. India plays around 40-45 ODIs before the World Cup hence the think tank must start making plans for it from now on.

Shastri and Kohli will need to sort out the no. 4 spot in ODIs on priority. Everyone needs to accept that MS Dhoni’s finishing skills have diminished or are diminishing. Yes, he is still a good stumper and a far better reader of the game whose presence on the field will be required at least till the World Cup. But given his recent inclination towards accumulating rather than blasting, he needs to bat up the order – preferably at no. 4.

This leaves Yuvraj Singh in a tricky spot. He was on fire in his comeback series against England, but since then has gone off the boil. One of the main reasons of Yuvraj’s selection in January was keeping in mind the urgent need at the Champions Trophy. Now that it is over, we need to realistically think about his chances – both form and fitness wise for the 2019 World Cup. Will the 35-year-old last another 2 years at the highest level?

Leaving out MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya, who look certain to start in almost all ODIs, we have Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Rishabh Pant and Dinesh Karthik competing for at least two spots in the middle order. Kohli and Shastri, known for being staunch supporters of the Punjab southpaw, will need to make a difficult decision if they really want to consciously blood youngsters and give them enough experience in preparation for the World Cup.

For the first time in many years, India’s pace attack is the least of captain’s concerns. It does look penetrative in all conditions with the combined forces of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, and Mohammed Shami. If Zaheer is roped in as a bowling consultant then under his tutelage, they will continue to develop and improve further and be a force to be reckoned with for the World Cup.

Ashwin needs to have a rethink about his ODI bowling strategy

It is the spinners that are causing some concerns. Jadeja and Ashwin have been pretty much ineffective bowling in tandem. Ashwin, in particular, needs to think about his role in ODIs. His bowling in the Champions Trophy was hardly imaginative and with the World Cup being played in the same country, he will have to rediscover his mojo in ODIs.

The series against the West Indies saw Virat Kohli playing Kuldeep Yadav as a frontline spinner with Jadeja and Ashwin being rotated. Will he stick to the same formula in the long run? How will Shastri and Kohli find that missing balance in the bowling attack?

Focus on Kohli’s Captaincy

Under Anil Kumble’s coaching stint, there were positive vibes going around Indian cricket in general until Kohli’s apprehensions about him were revealed. Since then, Kohli has been getting everything as per his wishes and hence his captaincy skills will firmly be under the limelight and directly linked to Team India’s fortunes.

If Kohli’s men are to have better results from the aforementioned difficult overseas tours, then the coach will need to do a bit more than just “to stay in the background”. Both Kohli and Shastri not only will have to improve India’s ordinary Test results in South Africa, Australia and England, they will also have to bring in fresh set of ideas for the limited overs squad – both in ODIs and T20I, especially when playing outside the subcontinent.

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