June 28, 2019 / 9:45 AM / 3 months ago

Indian juggernaut rolls on with a soft underbelly

BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - India have done most things right to remain the Cricket World Cup’s only unbeaten team till date but their middle order frailties will remain a worry for them heading into the business end of the tournament.

FILE PHOTO: Cricket - ICC Cricket World Cup - West Indies v India - Old Trafford, Manchester, Britain - June 27, 2019 India's Yuzvendra Chahal celebrates with team mates after taking the wicket of West Indies' Jason Holder Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith/File Photo

Shikhar Dhawan’s thumb injury after just two matches in the tournament forced India into a rejig which upset their batting hierarchy in the top half.

KL Rahul had looked the part at number four but had to be elevated to the opener’s role along with Rohit Sharma after Dhawan was ruled out of the competition.

All-rounder Vijay Shankar, who was originally picked in the Indian squad as the main contender for the position, has done little in the last two matches to nail down the slot.

Kedar Jadhav has done comparatively better, hitting his first fifty of the tournament in the narrow escape against Afghanistan but the middle order does look like India’s soft underbelly.

“In the middle order Vijay Shankar and Kedar Jadhav have yet to really convince,” former India captain Krish Srikkanth wrote in a column for the International Cricket Council.

“I think it’s fair to say that their approach needs some fine-tuning.

“Of course the batting concerns have been papered over in the last couple of games by the bowlers so it hasn’t mattered quite as much as it could have.”

The former opener felt time was ripe to blood Rishabh Pant, who came in as Dhawan’s replacement, in Sunday’s match against hosts England.

“If I was involved with the team management, I think I would consider putting a guy like Rishabh Pant in at No. 4,” said Srikkanth, a former chief selector.

Known for his six-hitting prowess, Pant smashed a century in an Oval test last year and his firepower could rejuvenate a middle order especially with Mahendra Singh Dhoni also struggling to fashion a late surge.

“They have brought him over here now, he is ready to go and, most importantly, he has played in England before so understands the conditions,” Srikkanth said.

“We saw him impress in the test series here last summer when he came into the side and with England up next, maybe now is a good time to get him in there against a familiar opponent.”

Former England skipper Michael Vaughan had questioned India’s decision to exclude Pant from their original squad and he was surprised after the left-hander was not picked for Thursday’s match against West Indies.

“Rishabh Pant! How he doesn’t get in this team I will never know...” he tweeted.

Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in Birmingham; editing by Sudipto Ganguly

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