India coach Ravi Shastri has acknowledged that the team missed a “solid” middle-order batsman, particularly in the semi-final, where their leading run-scorers Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli were dismissed cheaply. His statements come in the context of the talk – from before the World Cup – focused on the No. 4 spot and the middle order in general, which cropped up again following the 18-run defeat to New Zealand on Tuesday.
The uncertainty in India’s batting order was further compounded by injuries. KL Rahul and Vijay Shankar had been seen as No. 4 options when the World Cup squad was picked, and India began the tournament with Rahul at that slot. However, Rahul moved up to open the innings after Shikhar Dhawan was ruled out due to a hand injury. Vijay batted at No. 4 for a couple of games before being ruled out of the tournament due to a toe injury. Vijay’s injury meant that Rishabh Pant played at No. 4 in the last four matches. Neither Vijay nor Pant managed a 50-plus score from No. 4 position.
“In hindsight, yes, we did need a solid batsman out there in the middle order. But now, that’s something for the future,” Shastri told Indian Express. “That’s a position that was always giving us problems, but we just couldn’t nail it. Rahul was there but then Shikhar Dhawan got injured. Then Vijay Shankar was there, and he got injured. We just couldn’t control it.”
Another much-debated decision by India’s selectors was Mayank Agarwal’s selection over Ambati Rayudu as Vijay’s replacement. Agarwal, who is yet to make his ODI debut, was not part of the standby list which had only Rayudu and Pant as batsmen. Shastri stated that the team had not thought of picking Agarwal for the semi-final to allow Rahul to drop back to the middle order.
“Not really, because it got too tight. By the time Mayank came to join us, there wasn’t much time,” Shastri said. “If there was one more game, that is, if this semi-final was a game later, we would have definitely done it. He flew in, and Rahul had just hit a 60, and then a hundred. But I know what you mean; if we had one more game, that could well have been done.”
Agarwal’s selection and Rayudu’s omission – first from the original squad, and then as a replacement option – drew criticism from former India captain Sunil Gavaskar and VVS Laxman.
Another incident that Gavaskar came down heavily on was MS Dhoni’s batting position in the semi-final, saying Dhoni should have batted higher up the order. Dhoni came out to bat at No. 7, after India’s chase had lurched from 5 for 3 to 21 for 4. Shastri said Dhoni’s batting position was a team decision.
“Everyone was in with it — and it was a simple decision, too. The last thing you wanted was Dhoni coming out to bat early and getting out — that would have killed the chase. We needed his experience later. He is the greatest finisher of all times — and it would have been criminal to not make use of him in that way. The whole team was clear on it.
“And Rishabh Pant did look pretty secure when he got out to bat, even against Trent Boult, didn’t he? You could then say that if Pant had continued and not got out… but that’s sport. You grow up in quick time. He will learn, he already knows it. But I am happy that the team showed spunk. They didn’t give up even after losing Pant and Pandya. What a fightback that was.
“He [Dhoni] was magnificent. The composure in the situation. And let me tell you, if not for that unfortunate run-out, I think he had his calculations going inside his head. Which ball to hit, how much to keep for [Jimmy] Neesham’s last over. You could see his brain was ticking. He wanted to do it so desperately and it was clear on his face when he came back to the dressing room.”