‘Both Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal should play in the team eleven. I think the captain also wants to play both of them. Sometimes, it’s just about how you balance the team,’ says Agarkar.
It has been a memorable year for the Indian bowling line-up across formats. While the top three have been the mainstay in batting, questions are still being raised over No.4 and 5 positions. In all fairness, the middle-order conundrum remains. Former Indian fast bowler Ajit Agarkar spoke to The Sunday Guardian and gave his insight on bowling and batting combinations and on how India should go about in the World Cup. Excerpts:
Q: How do you see the inclusion of Siddarth Kaul in the Indian squad for the ODI against Australia? Do you see him in the World Cup?
A: Siddarth Kaul has been part of the set-up for a while now. He has been selected for only two ODIs. I am sure they must be trying a couple of guys. More or less, the team must have been decided by now but Bhuvneshwar Kumar played all the ODIs recently and I am presuming that they are giving him break and just trying another option. Looks like, there is a place for one more seamer in the squad. With Bumrah coming back, there is enough experience, and Shami bowling well. So they can go with someone for a couple of games.
Q: Who do you think is India’s best player for the fourth fast bowling option since Shami has now cemented his place in the side?
A: We already have four bowlers with Bhuvneshwar, Bumrah, Shami and Hardik. Khaleel has been around for a while. Kaul is somebody they are looking at. We know what Umesh Yadav can do. He has played enough cricket. Out of these three, there is likely to be one guy who will go unless there is a surprise with somebody from the outside. But I can’t imagine that happening at this stage.
Q: Khalil Ahmed has not been included for the Australian series and there were also talks about Jaydev Unadkat. Do you see India not going with a left-arm seamer to the World Cup?
A: I would like to think whoever has been selected for this series will go for the World Cup but if he is not part of the squad… I know there is still time left for the World Cup and it might happen. Khaleel played recently in Australia and he didn’t play much in New Zealand. They will probably have a look at it and they might even try Siddarth Kaul, and even look for another option. So it’s more of a fifth seamer back-up option they are looking at.
Q: Should India go with Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal both? How do we balance it out?
A: I think Hardik Pandya coming back helps and now Kedar Jadhav playing as well as an all-rounder. In my opinion, both wrist spinner should play. I am sure the captain also wants to play both of them. Sometimes, it’s just about how you balance the team. At times when Hardik Pandya wasn’t available (in series against Australia) and in the first few games Kedar didn’t play. India were playing with the six batters and nobody in the top six could bowl. It was a little bit difficult. That is why the captain dropped one of the wrist spinners and played Ravindra Jadeja for his batting. Now that Hardik Pandya is back and Kedar giving you few overs, I don’t think that will happen too many times. At least both the spinner will play at the start of the tournament.
Q: Coming to the batting, who would rather be placed at No.4 position? Ambati Rayudu or MS Dhoni?
A: Looks like Rayudu; at the moment he looks good. He has scored runs. It will be harsh to leave him out. But either of them… It could also depend on the situation at times. Virat played only first two games in New Zealand and Rayudu came in a tough situation and scored runs. MS Dhoni always brings experience to the table at number four. Whoever it is, there should be continuity. Just like the top three you want your number four settled as well. It seems Rayudu is the frontrunner. India’s batting has dependent a lot on the top three. They have done well and India mostly win games when the top order performs. They are world class players, all three of them. At some stages, there will be pressure if the top order get out early but at the moment it seems Rayudu is the right choice with MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav to follow.
Q: It seems No.4, 5 and 6 positions are weaker compared to the times when players like Yuvraj, Dhoni and Raina played. There was a lot of depth even if the top order were out cheaply. Would you say it’s a weak link? Consider a situation where India’s top three gets out cheaply or doesn’t perform on a particular day. In that scenario, will they be able to take us to a target of 300 or 350?
A: We will have to wait and see. So far the top order has been doing the job and it has been India’s strength. We will see when the situation arises. Our top order has been so good that one of them has always got some runs and taken pressure of the middle order. Again, with Pandya coming in, it gives you another dimension. He can strike the ball hard. May be you can rotate him 4,5,6,7 depending on what the situation is. He can provide what you actually need in those situations. It’s certainly not as strong as the top three when Dhoni was at his peak and Yuvraj Singh was there. The middle order was stronger. But, with the top three playing so well, it hasn’t put as much pressure on the middle order, which is a good thing because they are so consistent. I wouldn’t call them weak because the top three don’t give us a chance to see whether they are good or weak. In the recent Australian series we saw how Dhoni along with other batters at the lower order including Kartik, scored some handy runs. Kedar Jadhav scored runs at the end. The target wasn’t a 350-target but there was certainly pressure because the top order got out. There is no doubt that India is dependent on the top three. It’s not a secret. They have been really good under pressure.
Q: Suggestions have been made to shift Virat Kohli at No.4 if the situation warrants. How do you see this?
A: Not in my opinion. I have not read what Ravi has actually said. I just saw the headlines, and headlines can sometimes be deceptive. But, not in my opinion. All of his runs have come at number three. I would not like to mess around. He is the world’s best batsman, scores runs for fun. He has got most of his runs in that position. I think the top three has been India’s strength – Rohit, Shikhar and Virat. It would be silly. We will have to wait and see what actually happens, but I don’t subscribe to the idea. I will always bat Virat at number three. But who knows there is a guy who shows some unbelievable form and there are still two months. You might have an odd injury and you need to replace somebody who is an important player.
Q: MSK Prasad has conceded that they have almost finalised the top 18 whereas Ravi Shastri has said that he will still keep an eye on the players in the IPL? How can the selectors and coach not be on the same page?
A: I think Ravi also knows who his top 18 are. At times you find a player and he can take you by surprise. There is nothing wrong in keeping the options open. I don’t think that there is a communication gap. These are just different viewpoints. They have not announced it yet. There is no harm in looking at other players. I think these are just two different statements.
Q: What do you think about the current Australian series? Do you think that it’s time we stopped experimenting and pick the playing eleven that will play at the World Cup as well?
A: I think they should play the best eleven possible and that’s why Virat and Bumrah are back. There are just five games left before the World Cup. I would be very surprise if they don’t play their best eleven in the series against Australia. There might be occasions when they would like to include Kaul. I would be surprised if they don’t go with their best playing eleven because it’s our last series.
Q: Who are your favourites to win the World Cup?
A: You have to say India and England. It will also depend on how England handles pressure playing at home. They have never won a World Cup. In ODI, they are really good. It doesn’t matter where India play their cricket, they will do well. It’s still a long way off. We will also have to look at what squads different teams pick. Australia have struggled against India in the recent times with couple of their really important players missing. Their bowlers can always give tough competition. Pakistan have always remain unpredictable. South Africa have got some experienced players as well. But, at this point, India and England looks good on paper and performance wise as well. They are the top two teams.