Injuries never come at a good time, more so for someone like MS Dhoni who plays non-stop cricket. The India captain is resting at home thanks to a side strain sustained during the New Zealand tour and Virat Kohli is in the hot seat. On Sunday, when India and Pakistan clash in the Asia Cup in Mirpur, like most of us, Dhoni will also be probably watching the match on television.
The hardcore cricket fan gets very patriotic whenever we play the neighbours and tends to forget that this is just a cricket match. Having defeated Bangladesh in the first match and then losing to Sri Lanka on Friday, tongues are already wagging as to how the Indian side is now in losing mode.
Such comments are understandable after a disastrous showing in South Africa and New Zealand, but this is the time one is getting to see the team playing without Dhoni and the seasoned middle order comprising Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina.
It may be early days as yet, but at least one is getting to look at an Indian side with a new-look middle order where Ajinkya Rahane, Ambati Rayudu and Dinesh Karthik are trying to establish their credentials.
For years, one had got used to seeing the superb finisher in Dhoni show his skills in the shorter format, with Yuvraj and Raina also permanent fixtures.
If one were to see this as an experiment undertaken by the selectors almost a year before the ICC World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, it is a good one.
We all know, closer to the World Cup, experimenting with the team can be dangerous. An event like the Asia Cup does not mean too much, though from a cricketing point of view, seeing Team India lose is not good.
For long, Rahane has been seen as a specialist batsman whose style of play is supposed to suit the Test format. However, the technically sound batsman is now part of the ODI side and has shown promise in two matches.
Rahane scored 73 against Bangladesh while stand-in skipper Kohli once again caught the eye with his fluid 136. It was an effortless knock and for someone compiling his 19th ODI hundred, a reminder how good he is in a chase.
Back to Rahane, in the absence of the tried and tested middle order, he is getting the chance to prove himself, though a score of 22 in the second match against Sri Lanka was low.
So that brings us to the next man in the middle-order, Rayudu. The stylish batsman has not lived up to the promise in terms of scoring runs, but if India is looking at him as the next best option, he would probably be more useful as a finisher in the No.6 slot.
People are already talking about how this Indian side is no good without Kohli, but the fact remains the process of trying new batsmen in the middle order is happening now.
Viewed from the selectors’ point of view, some thought must have been given before picking Rahane, Rayudu and Karthik in the batting order. Karthik is certainly not in the best touch at this point and his wicket-keeping skills are also under scrutiny.
Indeed, the match against Pakistan on Sunday is big as the old foes will clash for the umpteenth time. When Pakistan toured India in 2013 for a short ODI series, they won 2- 1. For a side which does not get as much international cricket as India, this is a chance to play hard.
For the restructured Indian middle order, skipper Kohli and the Indian bowling attack, this is a good chance to soak in the pressure.
The Indian bowling is not without its share of woes and watching Varun Aaron get slogged around the park made for bad viewing, though what came as a shocker was the two beamers he hurled. Having bowled 7.5 overs and conceded 74 runs, when Aaron was removed from the attack, it was a sad sight.
To be sure, one gets the nagging suspicion Aaron has been rushed back into the team after his injury.
Agreed, this is a chance for the bowlers to make their presence felt, but Aaron doesn’t seem to present an image of fear for the kind of pace which he is capable of churning. At the same time, it is hard to fathom what use Stuart Binny is of.
In New Zealand, Dhoni gave him one over to bowl while Kohli realised Binny was not the guy to get him wickets against Sri Lanka where his four overs resulted in 22 runs.
In a way, the tinkering process in Team India is happening at the right time as one cannot make too many changes in tough away tours like England and Australia.
R Ashwin’s bowling action has come in for scrutiny from experts like Maninder Singh. The complaint is Ashwin has been doing too many things with his action but against Sri Lanka, he looked fine. One hopes this is not a case of some former players making a case for Harbhajan Singh to be brought back into the team. [CYCSPL]