If Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul are fit, India’s top-seven pick themselves, but the same can’t be said about their bowling unit. To be honest, it’s almost impossible for Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid to come up with a ‘perfect’ bowling combination for the forthcoming Asia Cup and the ODI World Cup.
Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj are certain starters, and you could probably say the same for Kuldeep Yadav. Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja are going to be the two all-rounders, but what about the rest? No matter whom they pick, the Men in Blue will struggle in one department or the other.
If you look at the numbers and the bowling combination, having Prasidh Krishna over Mohammed Shami would make more sense, but India also can’t ignore Shardul Thakur’s batting credentials. Also, is Kuldeep Yadav really undroppable? And what about Washington Sundar and Yuzvendra Chahal? How can they get back in the scheme of things?
Here are some of the bowling combinations India could go with in the next few months.
This is India’s most balanced bowling attack, at least on paper. Why do we say that? Well, you have someone like Siraj, who has a staggering record with the new ball, Prasidh can be the middle-over enforcer; Kuldeep is that wicket-taking wrist-spinner, and we all know what Bumrah brings to the table. You add Jadeja/Axar, and Pandya to the mix, you have a well-rounded bowling line-up.
Let’s talk about the fast bowlers first. All three of them are different in so many ways and bring variety to the pace unit. Siraj has been one of the best new-ball bowlers in this format since 2022. The 29-year-old from Hyderabad has picked up more than 60 percent of his wickets in the first powerplay (1-10). In fact, no other bowler has picked up more powerplay wickets than Siraj (26) since 2022.
Amongst bowlers from the top ten sides, Siraj also has the best average (16.8) in this phase after Mitchell Starc (13.3). However, the Indian fast bowler has bowled 103 overs compared to Starc’s 43, which speaks about his unreal consistency. That’s not it, Siraj’s numbers in the death overs (41-50) aren’t too bad either and could form a good duo with Bumrah.
The ace pacer becomes an obvious pick if he is fit and ready for the 50-over format. Bumrah recently captained India in the T20I series against Ireland but could only bowl eight overs in the series, two less than what he would be required to bowl in one ODI. There were reports that Bumrah bowled a lot of overs at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore and didn’t look troubled at all in his comeback series.
The 29-year-old has played only five ODIs since 2021, all of which came in 2022. Bumrah hasn’t played a single ODI since August 2022, meaning the Asia Cup will give the management a fair idea about his readiness. If you want to talk about his numbers, the right-arm seamer claimed 13 wickets in those five games and is someone who can bowl across all three phases.
However, he is at his best at the death, where he has an economy of less than six and picks up a wicket every 16.3 deliveries. Almost 50 percent of his total ODI wickets have come in the last phase of the innings. His record with the new ball is equally impressive, but if India want to save his overs for the end, they can even give the new ball to Pandya. Since 2022, the latter has an economy of 4.4 and an average of 22.2 in the powerplay.
Now that India have their powerplay and death bowling sorted, they need someone for the middle overs (11-40) who can complement the likes of Kuldeep and Jadeja, and that’s where Prasidh comes into play. If Bumrah didn’t play international cricket for 11 months, Prasidh was out of action for a year. The tall and lanky fast bowler from Karnataka also looked in good rhythm against Ireland but will be tested more in the Asia Cup.
He was brought into the ODI set-up as the middle-over enforcer and had an impressive start to his career. In 14 ODIs, the right-armer has 25 wickets at an average of 23.92 and a strike rate of 26.9. The hit-the-deck seamer has picked up 16 of his 25 wickets in the middle overs and could add more value to India’s pace attack than Shami. The team management has also made it clear that Kuldeep will be India’s frontline spinner, and rightly so. Ever since his debut, no one is even close to Kuldeep’s tally of 119 wickets in the middle phase.
The only problem India are going to face with this attack isn’t bowling-related. The inclusion of these four in the XI will mean that Kuldeep will have to bat at No.8, and that’s not ideal when it comes to the batting depth. Amongst these four, Kuldeep (11.71) is the only one with an average of more than 10, and that isn’t encouraging either.
Prasidh might be a better fit, but don’t be surprised if India start the Asia Cup with Shami in the line-up. No matter where he is in the pecking order, Shami somehow always finds a way to get into the team prior to a showpiece event. To be honest, his numbers in ODIs are as good as they come.
Amongst pacers who have taken at least 150 wickets in ODIs, Shami (27.8) has the second-best strike rate after Starc (25.9). Yes, that’s right, Shami is a pure wicket-taker, but also has the second-worst economy rate (5.6) amongst all. What’s more, the right-arm pacer is averaging 31.2 at a strike rate of 30.7 and has an economy of 6.1 since 2020.
Shami is supposed to be a threat with the new ball; however, an average of 36.7 and a strike rate of 48.8 don’t suggest the same. Those numbers have gone further up in the last three years, where he also has an economy of 8.7 at the death, which is the fifth-worst for a bowler from the top-10 sides. The 32-year-old’s inclusion won’t help with the batting either, considering he averages 8.5 in this format.
Let’s get one thing straight: We are not saying Shardul is a better bowler than Shami, but if you need a high-risk-high-award sort of bowler, why not go for someone who can contribute with the bat? The biggest and probably the only positive of having Shardul in the line-up is that the 31-year-old can score runs batting at No. 8. He averages 18.52 with the bat and has the tendency to step up when his team needs him the most.
Let’s keep his batting aside for a while, Shardul has also improved as a bowler in the last two years. Since 2022, the right-arm seamer has claimed 36 wickets in 23 games @ 24.3 and a strike rate of 25.6. His economy has also dropped to 5.7, compared to 6.8 in his first five years. The Indian team management has been pretty vocal about wanting some batting depth, and that's why Shardul has played the joint second-most number of ODIs (23) for India since 2022.
Shardul has a way of breaking partnerships, though his presence will weaken India’s bowling. As mentioned above, those numbers have surely improved in recent times, but they are still not as good as Prasidh’s. It’s not a secret that he has the worst economy rate (6.16) in this format since 2017 and has a habit of leaking runs for fun. Eventually, it will all boil down to what the management wants, If it’s a bit of batting, Shardul becomes a lock, unless …
… India decide to go with just two frontline seamers. However, that’s only going to happen on turning tracks, and India are scheduled to play World Cup matches in Chennai, Delhi and Lucknow. They will also play all of their Asia Cup matches in Sri Lanka, so don’t count out the possibility of India fielding three spinners in the XI.
Yuzvendra Chahal and Washington Sundar aren’t part of the Asia Cup squad, leaving us with only Axar in the set-up. It will be tough to adjust both Jadeja and Axar in the XI, but could be done against teams filled with right-handed batters. Axar has been averaging 29 with the bat since 2022, and his presence will also give India some control with the ball, considering he has an economy of less than five in this period.
In Bumrah and Siraj, India have two world-class pacers, and Pandya can easily take up the third seamer role on certain tracks. Indian captain Rohit recently spoke about how they can always go back to Chahal or Washington prior to the World Cup, and it could happen at the expense of one seamer or Axar.
The combination of two wrist-spinners - Chahal and Kuldeep - looks mouth-watering in the bowling department, except India can’t go back to featuring four No. 11s in the line-up. Having someone like Washington makes more sense, considering he is a left-handed batter and an offspinner, but we all know his history with injuries.
Bumrah-Siraj-Prasidh-two spin-bowling all-rounders
There’s one more possibility, but that involves India leaving Kuldeep out of the XI. That way, the Men in Blue can play their three frontline seamers and have one more spin-bowling allrounder alongside Jadeja. Playing both Jadeja and Axar, with Kuldeep not in the XI, would make no sense. Hence, Washington will have to be brought back unless Ravichandran Ashwin returns to the mix, which is unlikely to happen.
Washington has featured in 16 ODIs, picking up as many wickets at an average of 27.7 and an economy of 5.1. All these finger spinners have an economy of less than five since 2022; however, they won’t give India as many wickets as someone like Kuldeep would do. The left-arm wrist-spinner has a way better strike rate (25.5) than the likes of Jadeja, Axar and Washington, and it’s highly doubtful India would leave him out of the XI.