Once India lost their semi-final clash against New Zealand at Old Trafford by 18 runs on Wednesday, the uncomfortable questions have started surfacing. The biggest question is over India’s lack of answer to a fragile middle order, even to the extent that they had to fill up crucial batting slots with wicketkeepers-batsmen. Injuries to Shikhar Dhawan and Vijay Shankar and the mysterious reason for not calling up Ambati Rayudu made things worse for a batting order that relied heavily on its top three. While the MSK Prasad-led selection panel picked Vijay as the No.4 batsman in the squad – ahead of Rayudu who was tested in that position for several months in the run-up to the tournament.
It was KL Rahul who became the No.4 batsman after hitting a hundred in the warm-up match against Bangladesh. Prasad had even called Vijay a “three-dimensional” cricketer while picking him over Rayudu, an observation that had attracted an indirect dig from the batsman who has now retired out of angst. But India’s plan over Rahul again took a twist after Dhawan got a broken thumb during playing against Australia and was ruled out. Rahul was promoted up the order to become Rohit Sharma’s opening partner and the Rahul-Rohit and Virat Kohli line-up became the crux of the Indian batting.
The trio kept on delivering throughout the league stage with Rohit slamming five centuries (three of them in consecutive games) and Kohli hitting five back-to-back fifties. Rahul also had a few promising knocks and eventually scored a hundred in the final league match against Sri Lanka.
But all three batsmen fell for just one run each in the all-important semi-final clash against the Kiwis as India were left reeling at 5 for 3 while chasing a competitive target of 240. The moves of sending the inexperienced Rishabh Pant at No.4 and keeping the 350-game- experienced MS Dhoni for No.7 left the fans and experts baffled. Dhoni scored 50 at No.7 and added 116 runs with No.8 batsman Ravindra Jadeja to take India to victory almost but eventually, they lost by 18 runs.
Selectors should take the responsibility
But amid India’s impressive 7-2 record at this World Cup, the chaos over team selection and replacement calls hadn’t gone unnoticed. Particularly, the decision to call Mayank Agarwal, who is yet to make his debut in ODIs, in place of Vijay left many surprised. India TV cited a report to say that a senior BCCI official opining that the selectors must also take responsibility whenever the team loses in a tournament just like that they deserve a monetary reward whenever the team does well.
“When the team wins a tournament, the selectors are given a financial reward for their performance but when the criticism comes after a loss, it is only the players who seem to be criticised. What about the selectors?” the official was quoted as asking.