West Indies tour of India 2022: Is India’s lower middle-order over reliant on Hardik Pandya & Ravindra Jadeja? Should India continue giving chances to new players for these roles?
It was around midnight when the lion’s share of India were in the middle of their sleep missing the match-winning six from Axar Patel that was thumped over the long-off region to carry his side to another series victory over the West Indies.
This result tasted sweeter given how the visitors, coming back from a wounded situation, losing the top order with just 79 on the board, chased a huge score of 312 with their new look lower middle-order taking huge responsibility on their shoulders, in the absence of Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja.
The struggle of lower middle-order amidst over reliance on Hardik and Jadeja
The thankless job of the lower middle-order is vital for a team’s prospects in the One Day International (ODI) format. On some days, they will be required to come early to do the recovery job while on other days, they need to smash from the very first ball.
Since those golden days of Indian cricket when they used to have their former captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni along with Suresh Raina to do the job in the lower middle-order coming at numbers 6 and 7, India seem to now put too much pressure on the shoulders of Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja.
There are not much options left in the squad who can come in the eleven and turn the game condition on its head. With a long tail, issues begin to grow when their top order fails to fire and with every passing series, it is becoming a huge concern.
“With Hardik Pandya getting injured, it became a massive problem,” the words of former India head coach, Ravi Shastri, in a recent interview to Fancode affirmed the value of Hardik in the lower middle-order. “It cost India a couple of world cups because we didn’t have anyone who could bowl in the top 6.”
The failure of the lower middle-order in the first ODI against West Indies
The 3-run victory in the first ODI against the West Indies at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain, Trinidad might tell how close the game went. But India, at one point, were looking to go beyond the 350-mark being on 230-3 after 36 overs; they finished with 308/7, having scored just 78/5 in the last 14 overs.
With Hardik Pandya taking a break from the ODI leg and Ravindra Jadeja healing his injury, Team India was formed in a new shape having Deepak Hooda, Axar Patel and Shardul Thakur in the lower middle-order.
Hooda, who was in prime touch during the Ireland and England T20I series, struggled badly to get going from the very first ball; he was not even getting those singles which saw India losing a little bit of momentum at the end. Axar Patel, who crunched a run-a-ball 21, was facing the same issues.
The change of fortunes for lower middle-order in the 2nd ODI
This time around, the situation was different; India were chasing a huge score of 312 and they had lost their top three wickets at a score of just 79. There was a 99-run partnership for the fourth wicket between Sanju Samson and Shreyas Iyer but the target was still far from India’s reach. They lost two more and 100 runs were needed in the last 10 overs.
Axar Patel was new to the crease while his partner Hooda was rotating the strike well. With the required run rate getting up, Axar decided to take on the bowlers and he smacked three sixes in three back-to-back overs before watching Hooda going back to the hut.
Axar, who has done the finishing job in the IPL for his sides, with two back-to-back boundaries notched up his maiden ODI half-century in just 27 balls. With eight runs to grab in the last six balls, Axar did a MS Dhoni to club a six over the long-off region as India registered their 12th successive bilateral ODI series win over the West Indies.
Axar remained on 64*, which is the lowest individual score to be the top score of a team in a successful 300+ chase in ODIs. India scored exactly 100 runs in the overs between 41-50 which is now their highest runs in that phase in a run chase since 2002.
Inconsistency in the lower middle-order for India
There are a few games where the lower middle-order has done well in the 50-over games but the issue is lack of consistency and that instability cost them in the semi-final of the ICC ODI World Cup 2019 when India lost their top order cheaply.
India have been blessed with so many options at the top; they have almost seven-eight quality openers in their ranks while in the bowling group too they have so many choices in the pace and spin bowling departments. The middle order with some rising stars too is picking up the balance.
The main issue is the lower middle-order where in every situation, they keep on looking at Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja; there are some like Shardul Thakur but the position he bats is too low to squeeze India out of danger.
Probable back-up options for India in the lower middle-order
It’s high time for India to look for back-up lower middle-order players. They have got a good option in the form of Deepak Hooda, who also can give five to six vital overs in the middle phase which will help in balancing the side.
Axar Patel seems to be the brightest player in that position who showed clarity in chasing that huge target in the second ODI. There were Shivam Dube and Krunal Pandya in the past too who used to slap the ball far and could give the team few overs with the ball.
Speaking about rising stars, Ravisrinivasan Sai Kishore, who has been excellent in the ongoing Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) can be a good option in that slot. Left-arm spinner Kishore, who has 54 List A wickets, few days back while playing for the Chepauk Super Gillies returned figures of 4-2 in four overs in the TNPL. Another youngster Washington Sundar is already among the probables for this role for future.
All these young players should be given more chances on the India A tours to be ready whenever required for the national side. This will help to ease out the responsibility from the shoulders of Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja.
The upcoming three ODIs on the Zimbabwe tour too will provide a bright picture at which players India are running after to slot in the lower middle-order as their back up plan. All in all, India should quickly fix this issue before the ICC ODI World Cup 2023 to be held in India.