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IND vs SL: How ready is Team India for ODI World Cup

Indians have just celebrated the famous kite-flying festival of Makar Sankranti and a few states are still celebrating. The festival celebrates the Sun’s transition from one zodiac to another and is observed to mark a new beginning.

Indian cricket team as well marked a new beginning to the home season as they cut Sri Lanka’s kite down into bits and pieces defeating them 3-0. More importantly, except for a brief period of time in the second ODI, Sri Lanka never came close to a victory in the series.

Flying a kite is divided into four phases – lift (upward), weight (downward), thrust (push), and drag (pull). All four forces need to be in tandem to ensure a kite flies well.

India’s performance in the series was similar. A clean sweep of this stature will make the cricketing fraternity wonders – if India is indeed this good, or Sri Lanka is that poor, or maybe both.

The Indian batting order is undoubtedly intimidating, but somehow doesn’t look as frightening as England. Nonetheless, they silently made their way to post mammoth totals of 371 and 390 on both the chances they batted first.

Thrust from top order

The top order is in good form – scoring aplenty. They provided the thrust throughout the series, instilling fear in the opposition. Shubman Gill was chosen over Ishan Kishan and that sparked a massive debate. Gill, however, calmly extinguished the raging fire by scoring 207 runs at an average of 69.

Gill repaid Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid’s faith and the century in the third ODI brought style to it. Gill’s series total failed to overtake only Virat Kohli’s 283 (average of 141.5). That though was not going to be possible with Kohli at his imperious best. The first ODI proved Kohli to be lucky but he did demonstrate how to use luck.

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The third ODI, nevertheless, put forward the vintage Virat Kohli. He dominated at the start with a flurry of boundaries and established authority. Then, after a clam middle overs, toyed with the bowlers and hit sixes at will with jaw-dropping shots in the end. Kohli in white-ball cricket is at his superlative again.

Skipper Rohit has also started to once again have longer stays at the crease. While he still needs some work to be done, he looked more comfortable than the 2022 T20 World Cup days.

The middle order has been rejuvenated and has provided the much-needed weight. Shreyas Iyer has already established himself at number four. KL Rahul looks set for a long-term haul at number five. All-rounders Hardik Pandya and Axar Patel look perfect to balance the side. If there are doubts, revisit the second ODI when India were in a spot of bother.

Rahul, in fact, has played a stabilising knock twice in the last two series. Though his 73 against Bangladesh was in a losing cause, he made sure India put up a fight.

After the second ODI, while Rahul joked that batting lower in the order helps to take a nice shower after fielding, Rohit acknowledged that having Rahul at five gives the top order a cushion to bat freely.

Lift from Siraj and Co

Batting has always been India’s mainstay. What has really provided the lift is Mohammed Siraj-led bowling. India’s bowling seemed toothless in recent times, more so with the absence of Jasprit Bumrah.

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A 10-wicket hammering against England at the T20 World Cup had raised serious question marks.

A few months later, Siraj has shown that India can survive if Bumrah is not available, at least for a while. Trivandrum pitch curator developed a slow track that did not have much for the batters or the bowlers. Siraj, somehow, was able to produce the edge of batters and also find the bat-pad gap.

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While Siraj proved to be the mainstay, Umran Malik made sure to create more selection headaches with his ability to scalp wickets in the middle overs.

Kuldeep Yadav, as well, has made a firm statement and made sure his selection is a certainty going forward. Though he might still compete with his dear friend Yuzvendra Chahal for a place in the XI.

Axar Patel (brilliant enough to be mentioned twice) came in as Ravindra Jadeja’s replacement but the latter will find it difficult to have his place back with the manner in which his stunt double has performed. Axar’s bowling and batting were rarely doubted, but his sharp reflexes at point in this series caught everyone’s eyes.

Lastly, what provides the drag to this side is the team management giving players extended runs and not changing squads often. Gill given an extended run after Kishan’s 200 and Umran trusted despite being expensive are clear indicators of the tactics.

India’s kite soared high against Sri Lanka. But as far as the World Cup is concerned, this was just the lift.

Playing against New Zealand in three days’ time will be a sterner test. The kite might feel the pressure of wind, or experience no wind at all. But if India can roll over the Kiwis, they will be a force to reckon with, more so with the World Cup at home.

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