safari staff
17 Jan 2023 | 03:51 PM

Shardul Thakur’s lower-order batting could be a potential difference-maker: Rohit

The lack of batting depth, Rohit said, brings someone like a Shardul Thakur into the scheme of things

India skipper Rohit Sharma has hinted at the potential inclusion of Shardul Thakur in the starting XI for the first ODI against New Zealand, citing that the 31-year-old’s batting could give the team the ‘edge’ that its lacking down the order.

India went with four specialist bowlers in the ODIs against Sri Lanka — Shami, Umran, Siraj and a wrist-spinner — trading batting depth for more cutting-edge with the ball. The gamble ultimately worked against Sri Lanka, but ahead of the first ODI against the Kiwis, Rohit admitted that a long tail could ‘worry’ the side in contests in which they lose wickets up-front.

In the pre-match press conference, the India skipper claimed that he would ideally love to field the strongest attack possible but conceded that doing so will be a ‘challenging’ prospect. The lack of batting depth, Rohit said, brings someone like a Shardul Thakur into the scheme of things.

“Honestly speaking I don’t want to compromise on anything because we want to play the best XI in all games. And that will be a challenge for us as at No.8 or 9 we want someone who can bat for us and that’s why we want Shardul (Thakur) in as his ability with the bat can give us that edge,” Rohit said on Tuesday.

“That will be a challenge if we lose early wickets or wickets in the middle and could worry us. But having said that, if you have seven batters who are expected to do the job no matter what happens then you can look at your playing combinations as well.”

But the skipper stated that the spin-bowling all-rounders present in the squad will, pertaining to conditions, give the side the flexibility of picking the seamers not looking at their batting ability. India will be without the services of Axar Patel for the New Zealand series, but they will still have Washington Sundar and Shahbaz Ahmed, both of whom are very much capable of batting in the Top 7.

“In India we have different pitches and different challenges, so we need to try and assess everything. Luckily for us we have spinners, who are all-rounders and can bat. Washington, Axar, Jadeja and Shahbaz Ahmed etc. These guys can give us the depth which we are looking for.”

In the pre-match press conference, Rohit also hinted at a potential rest for Mohammed Siraj, although he did not quite reveal whether the pacer will start the New Zealand ODIs on the bench. 

Since the start of last year, Siraj has played more ODIs than any other Indian player and Rohit insisted that it’ll be imperative for India to keep the speedster fresh. Not only because this is a World Cup year, but also because the 28-year-old will be required to play a key role in the four-Test series against Australia starting next month, with Jasprit Bumrah ruled out of the first two Tests.

 “We have seen, in the last two years, how Siraj has performed for the team in all the three formats. He is a very important player for us, and his management is very necessary – how we manage him is important and keep him fresh,” Rohit said of Siraj.

“...he is not only good with the new ball but also gets wickets in the middle overs and has a lot of skills. The team needs such bowlers who can get wickets at any phase of the game. 

“Siraj has brought in a lot of improvement in his discipline too. He is going higher and that’s a great thing. Now it’s up to the team to manage him well and keep him fresh till the World Cup.”

India dusted off Sri Lanka in the ODIs without breaking a sweat, but they’ll be up against a far more difficult opponent in the form of New Zealand, the number one ranked side in the world. 

The Kiwis have won six of their last seven ODI bilaterals, including beating India at home a couple of months ago, and will be entering the forthcoming three-match series having conquered Babar Azam’s Pakistan in their own backyard. 

Rohit admitted that the BlackCaps will pose a different set of challenges that will be stern, but insisted that the Men in Blue are aiming to merely focus on themselves, and not the opponent. The team’s goal heading into the three-match series, Rohit said, is to fine tune things and continue to grow stronger as a unit.

“New Zealand are coming off a good series against Pakistan and are obviously playing good cricket. It will pose us a different set of challenges. We just want to continue from where we left against Sri Lanka. It’s not important to look at the opposition too much but to look at what we need to do as a team and execute our plans,” Rohit said.

“Oppositions keep changing every time, but your planning and execution remains the same. What you want to achieve doesn’t change. The last series was a perfect example of playing fearless cricket and that’s what we want to do. 

“We don’t want to focus too much on the opposition and what other teams are doing. When the team does what they can do, they can achieve the kind of results we saw in the last series.

“Going into the series it’s simple for us. We want to grow as a team and fine tune all the things we have in front of us in terms of batting, bowling, and fielding. A good opportunity against a good opposition and we can challenge ourselves to achieve what we want to achieve as a team here.”

Among other things in the presser, Rohit was asked about Ravichandran Ashwin’s suggestion to start games early to negate the dew factor. Rohit agreed that starting games early will be a ‘good idea’, for it will reduce the influence of toss, but half-joked that early starts will happen only if the broadcasters are fine with it.

“An early start is a good idea as in the World Cup you don’t want to depend too much on the toss factor. I am okay with it, but I am not sure if it is possible as the broadcasters will decide what time the game will start. 

“Ideally, we would like to have good cricket being played without one team having an advantage of batting under lights in the dew. But these things are not in our control.”

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