‘Balance and depth’ – were the two words that captain Rohit Sharma and BCCI chief selector Ajit Agarkar repeatedly stressed on Tuesday afternoon when India’s 15-member provisional World Cup squad was revealed in Kandy, in the midst of the team’s ongoing campaign in Asia Cup. Those were the two factors that the pair sought in their final 15 for the home tournament that begins next month, and probably will be in the back of their mind each time they pick an XI throughout their campaign.
Rohit later stressed on the importance of having a tail, highlighting that the demands of modern-day cricket is such that even a No. 11 can tend to make a difference and hence should be able to score runs. “We need to create that depth in batting and bowling. It was lacking in our team the last few years,” he said before exemplifying his point through the rain washed out game against Pakistan in their Asia Cup opener on Saturday, saying that had they batted through the 50 overs of the innings, those 15-20 extra runs coming at the back end would create a huge difference.
“Our first game here, we fell a little short at the back end. No 8, 9, 10, 11… it is their job too to contribute with the bat,” he added.
Hence, over the course of the last few weeks, Shardul Thakur has been a name that has often been discussed. With his improved batting abilities lower down the order, at one point in his career, there were even talks on whether he could emerge as the new pace-bowling all-rounder for India, when Hardik Pandya was going through injury concerns. Not to forget, the “Lord” has been impressive as a bowler as well, having earned the reputation of “making things happen”. His presence at No. 8 in the line-up hence adds to what Rohit has been looking for in the World Cup squad – a batting depth.
However, former BCCI chief selector Krishnamachari Srikkanth, speaking on Star Sports, in the presence of former India batting coach Sanjay Bangar and veteran India spinner Piyush Chawla, highlighted that that Shardul hasn’t proven his “all-rounder” abilities yet and the need of a bowler with batting abilities at No. 8 is needless, stressing that India can instead pick a specialist spinner or a pacer instead. And Srikkanth, in a bid to make his point, entered into a heated discussion with Bangar, which went this way:
Srikkanth: Is Shardul Thakur a complete batsman?
Bangar: In Test cricket, yes.
Srikkanth: I’m talking about ODI cricket. Is he an all-rounder?
Bangar: Yes he is.
Srikkanth: How is he an all-rounder? After T20 World Cup, he only big score was 25.
Bangar: His bowling is good.
Srikkanth: How is his bowling good? In his career, how many times has he bowled for full 10 overs?
While the presenter was quick enough to end the discussion right there, the 1983 World Cup-winning player picked up the topic yet again, this time while in agreement with Bangar, who admitted that he would rather pick someone like an Arshdeep Singh, left-arm pacer, “who hasn’t done anything wrong to not be considered”, instead of Shardul.
An excited Srikkanth gave a high-five to Bangar before adding to the notion that it is needless to pick a player who hasn’t had impactful batting performances to show at No. 8 and neither bowls a full quota of 10 overs. Since January 2022, he has bowled 10 overs in an innings only twice in 24 innings and during the same period he has scored 130 runs at No. 8 in 12 innings with one unbeaten 50 and nine single-digit scores.
“Everyone is saying we need a batter at No. 8…who needs a batter at No. 8? Shardul Thakur is only scoring 10 there and he doesn’t even bowl for 10 overs. In the match against Nepal, how many overs did he bowl? 4 only. See, don’t see performances against sides like West Indies or Zimbabwe. Yes if he performs well, then keep that in the back of your mind, but don’t give importance to that. Instead stress on performances against teams like Australia or New Zealand. That is why I say, don’t get fooled by overall averages, always look at individual matches,” he said.
In a bid to further explain his view, Srikkanth recalled the reserves list for the 2011 World Cup squad, during which he was the chief selector of India. He said: “Look at the 2011 World Cup squad. Shall I say who were the reserves? There were two spinners – R Ashwin and Piyush Chawla and one medium pacer in Munaf Patel, along with one batter in Yusuf Pathan.”