The first match of the tri-series featuring India raised many troubling questions again for the defending World champions. Their batting was a mixed bag again. Rohit Sharma came up with a fantastic ton, but rest could not do much as a result of which the team fell short of a challenging total. With the ball, it was yet again a case of the bowlers not being able to control their line and length. There were moments during the end when Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar found some rhythm, but overall, they were disappointing again. There are not many games left before the World Cup begins, and India still have plenty of questions unanswered.
In the batting at present, the opening slot will be the biggest of their concerns. Rohit has reduced some of the headaches for India with his marvellous century at Melbourne albeit in a losing cause, but things seem to be going from bad to worse for Shikhar Dhawan. He had a poor Test series, and played a terrible stroke to be dismissed in the first over on Sunday. India have chosen Dhawan as the first-choice opener ahead of Murali Vijay, but that has been on the back of his past glory. If Dhawan continues to falter at the top, India might end up ruing their decision. That is unless of course Dhawan gets back among the runs. India must have a back up plan in case Dhawan continues to falter.
The one option India have is to move Ajinkya Rahane up the order, and have him open with Rohit. If that works, they can drop Dhawan and bring in someone like Ambati Rayudu to strengthen the middle order or perhaps even fit in a batting all-rounder like Stuart Binny. The game against England is possibly Dhawan's last chance to prove that he has it in him to survive in conditions that prevail in Australia. If he continues to fail, it will be futile for this Indians to continue with him at the top. What's happening with Dhawan getting out early constantly is that a lot of pressure is being put on the middle order. As a result, they are mostly playing catch up.
India also haven't figured out their best bowling line-up yet. Ishant Sharma might lead the attack again given that he is the team's most experienced bowler, but he hasn't even returned to full fitness yet. Even if he's in good shape as far as his body is concerned, it really remains to be seen whether he can lead the attack in the desired manner. The way Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami have been leaking runs will be making the Indian support staff pull out their hairs. Unfortunately, India do not have much to fall back on, and will have to make do with what they have. Yadav and Shami flourished briefly at the MCG, and that would give India hope.
On paper Ravichandran Ashwin is the team's number one spinner. But, even here India have a problem. The offie hasn't displayed the ability to pick up wickets in the middle overs, and that is hurting India in a big way. At Melbourne, Axar Patel was the more competent of the two spinners even though he was the less experienced of the duo. Overall, Ashwin has a poor record in Australia, irrespective of the format. That is not a great sign for the Indians heading into the World Cup. Like Dhawan, Ashwin's performance will also be under the scanner against England. For now, India's World Cup defence seems on shaky ground.
--By A Cricket Analyst