Shape up or ship out: 2022's message for senior players stuck in a groove

By Niharika Raina

New Delhi, Dec 10 (IANS): For sure, India isn't ending 2022 on a great note. A string of injuries, a 10-wicket hammering in the Men's T20 World Cup semifinal, abrupt removal of the five-member selection panel, a 1-0 loss in a rain-hit ODI series against New Zealand, and now an ODI series defeat in Bangladesh means they are in disarray with the 2023 ODI World Cup on the horizon.

It is true that India are trying out a lot of players this year, especially in the ODIs, but the agonising defeats to Bangladesh will hurt, because of the senior players not stepping up in a rare occasion of them re-uniting in a 50-over series.

With K.L. Rahul not opening in the second ODI despite Rohit Sharma suffering a blow to his left thumb causing him to bat at number nine, it's clear that they now see him as a middle-order option. Fair to say, Rahul had been a consistent name in the middle-order, thanks to his 73 against Bangladesh in the first ODI.

It means that Shikhar Dhawan and Sharma will be the first-choice pair for India to open the batting in ODIs. But one needs to see if circumstances are favourable for them to be the opening pair for India in the 2023 ODI World Cup at home.

2022 has been a year where Dhawan was a regular presence in being the stand-in skipper for India in ODIs, whenever Sharma or Rahul were not present. The veteran left-handed opener has played 36 matches for India since the 2019 ODI World Cup ended -- the most by any player from the side.

But 2022 has been a year where Dhawan's strike-rate has slowed down quite mysteriously in a format where he has been great and can understand its pulse too. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, Dhawan's strike-rate in ODIs was 100.34, 101.37, and 102.28 respectively. In 2019, 2020 and 2021, his strike-rate was 91.81, 91.48, and 91.95, respectively.

But in 21 innings of 2022, where 685 runs have been amassed at an average of 36.05, Dhawan's strike rate has dropped significantly to 74.53. In the two ODIs against Bangladesh, Dhawan fell while trying to break free from the slowdown he suffered at the start of his innings, while the other time he was undone by the brilliance of Mustafizur Rahman.

Sharma, his opening partner and captain of the side, has been in patchy personal form and also, his fitness itself is a worry too, especially after returning home to consult a specialist for his injured left thumb. He was able to up his strike-rate in power-play of T20Is, but the timing and form deserted him in a T20 World Cup campaign which had a rude end.

In eight ODIs this year, he has scored 249 runs at an average of 41.50 and strike-rate of 114.22. Though he showed signs of being at his best when batting at number nine with a taped thumb with 51 not out off 28 balls, it will be interesting to see if Sharma gets his touch and form back at a consistent rate in ODIs in 2023.

Virat Kohli, on the other hand, turned around his prolonged lean patch since Asia Cup 2022. But even his die-hard fans would like to see Kohli make a turnaround like this in ODIs as the World Cup approaches. In 10 ODI innings this year, Kohli has made 189 runs at an average of 18.90 and strike-rate of 73.82.

In ODIs in 2022, India fielded very different squads due to workload management-related reasons. But head coach Rahul Dravid said after the second ODI ended, that India would field a full-strength side in the format from January in lead-up to the World Cup.

One would now expect for the senior players to be fit and be in sync with current trends of the format to fasten India's chances of preparing well for a home World Cup. Otherwise, the heartbreak in ICC events will come again.



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Title: Shape up or ship out: 2022's message for senior players stuck in a groove

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