Pallekele: With a month for the World Cup, Team India resembles a bunch of backbenchers hurriedly flipping pages in the textbook ahead of the all-important board exams. But after several setbacks through injuries and workload management, which forced them to rest a few of their first-choice players, they finally seem to have a full-strength squad at their disposal, pending KL Rahul.
From here till the World Cup, every session and day counts. In that sense, the intensity they showed in their training session at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium wasn’t lost. In the three-hour session before their opening fixture against Pakistan, the pacers went full throttle and batsmen showed the sort of intent that they have been harping on forever. It has come to that point in time where they can no longer pretend to be in snooze mode or use matches to experiment who fits their combination better. The phase of experimenting is practically over.
If anyone needed proof, Mohammed Siraj showed it. Midway through India’s net session, Siraj who had already warmed up, was in no mood to deliver freebies. He nipped one back into Virat Kohli. It climbed so badly that it breached Kohli’s defence and hit flush on his hand, leaving the batsman wincing in pain. Only a thumbs up from Kohli reassured head coach Rahul Dravid, who was watching from the opposite end.
Change of tide
Though this is the first ODI between these storied rivals since the 2019 World Cup in Manchester, where India and Pakistan were in opposite spectrums, the tide has changed. In the four-year period, Pakistan have grown from strength to strength in limited-overs cricket and in multi-national tournaments and have eclipsed India. For the latter, it won’t be a bad time to change the trend, particularly with the World Cup around the corner. Having dominated bilateral series at home, they have shown a tendency to slip in events like the Asia Cup and ICC events. With the World Cup being the prime target, India cannot afford to treat the Asia Cup lightly. Unless they put in a strong show and send a message across, their home ride at the World Cup could turn bumpy.
So far in their preparations for the World Cup, they have not induced much confidence. With their top five being one-dimensional and pacers not handy with the bat, India have reached a stage where they believe they have to compromise on batting depth to field the strongest XI. That Suryakumar Yadav was seen bowling leg-spinners in the nets for a considerable period showed India are still waiting for a few of their moves to click, in hope rather in conviction.
Time to achieve
With a fully fit squad available, skipper Rohit Sharma asserted that the time has come for India to start achieving their targets they have set. “This is a tournament where six teams are competing, and all six teams are quite competitive, anyone can beat anyone on any given day. You got to be best on that given day. We are here to tick a lot of boxes and when we are finished with this tournament hopefully we can achieve that, and go into the next one and a half months of the World Cup,” Rohit said on Friday.
With key players including Shreyas Iyer, Jasprit Bumrah and Rahul later on returning from long injury lay-offs, and Mohammed Shami back after a break, this tournament is crucial for the players to find their feet. All three pacers had their tails up in the nets session while Iyer too seemed to regain the rhythm. He started off facing the seamers, before he cut loose against Kuldeep Yadav and Suryakumar, hitting them long and hard straight over their heads.
With India set to name the World Cup squad a day after the group stage match against Nepal on September 4, they have to cull their squad strength from 17 to 15. With all the players fit and available, for the first time since taking over as captain, Rohit faces a big challenge, that of taking some tough decisions. “I would probably be in this kind of headache, rather than having no headache. It’s always nice to have a good pool of players to choose from, it’s always nice within the team environment as well to have such kind of competition, and so many players being available,” he said.
“When all these guys are available and at their best, it’s gonna be quite a challenging task for us to make the playing eleven. That is always a good thing to have in the team environment when we have such kind of competition headaches,” he added.
At the recently concluded camp in Alur, India put their players through a fitness test and it is understood that the results have been entirely satisfying and not a single player is learnt to be anywhere close to the red zone that usually sets alarm bells to ring. “I hope that you know, all these players, all the 15-18 that we have now here, stay fresh. They are fit throughout the tournament (and hopefully) throughout the next two months. But speaking of just the Asia Cup, I want to make sure that we have no injury concerns and we shouldn’t have any injury concerns. That’ll be a good sign for us to move forward,” he added.