The last time India played an ODI in Ranchi, in March 2019, the city’s favourite son MS Dhoni was still striding out to bat in the middle order and manoeuvring the field around from behind the stumps. More topically, India were gearing up for a global tournament, like they currently are, but unlike the present, it was to be in the same format in which they were playing that particular series (against Australia), and their first squad had not concurrently travelled across the Indian Ocean instead.
So devoid of context is the ongoing ODI series against South Africa – with the T20 World Cup set to begin in a week – that the primary concern for India at the moment has to be the growing injury list. After Jasprit Bumrah and Ravindra Jadeja’s withdrawals hit the main T20 World Cup squad, the reserves list has also suffered a dent, with Deepak Chahar ruled out for the remaining two ODIs; a BCCI release stated that Chahar had felt “stiffness in his back” after the third T20I against South Africa in Indore last Tuesday; the seamer’s recovery will now be monitored at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru.
— BCCI (@BCCI) October 8, 2022
Chahar had made a comeback in August after a six-month injury layoff, and his latest hiccup means that all the pacers in the main T20 World Cup squad as well as the reserves are either injured (Bumrah, Chahar) or recovering from illness (Mohammed Shami) or at least have had the injury cloud hanging over them in the recent past (Arshdeep Singh, Harshal Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar).
Amid such uncertainty over the pace attack, Shardul Thakur was asked whether he still fancied his chances for the T20 World Cup, despite missing out on the original flight to Perth. “If injuries happen, then anyone can come in at any point of time. As of now, your responsibility is to be ready whenever you’re asked to play. I will be mentally ready if I’m given a call-up. That is all (there is) in my hands,” Thakur said ahead of the second ODI in Ranchi.
Chahar’s pullout has meant the inclusion of another man on the injury comeback trail, Washington Sundar, as his replacement. Washington hasn’t played for India in any format since February, and Thakur hasn’t played a T20I since the same month. But what both bring to the table, apart from their bowling skills, is additional batting depth, something India are sorely lacking in their T20 World Cup squad.
Washington has a first-class century and three Test fifties to his name, and Thakur again showed his value with the bat in the Lucknow ODI on Thursday with 33 off 31 at No 7, helping Sanju Samson repair India’s chase from 51 for 4 and 118 for 5.
“I have been focusing on my batting for a long time now. Obviously, batting at No 7 or 8, or even the one who is coming at No 9, if he can add a few runs for the team, it is always great. It gives you a cushion to defend the total or when you are chasing, it allows the top order to play freely. That is the difference one can make at No 7, 8 or 9,” Thakur said.
“If you see Australia, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc bat at No 8 and 9, even for that matter England, even their batting is deep. So why not India, even we can have our batting line-up deep and make that difference of 15-20 runs in the game,” Thakur added.
In case Washington (or Shahbaz Ahmed) were to come in, presumably in place of Ravi Bishnoi, it would give India batting options till at least No 8. Even then, there is plenty of work for the specialist batters to do after their collapse in Lucknow. After Shikhar Dhawan and Shubman Gill fell early to the pacers, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Ishan Kishan somehow survived the initial barrage only to give it away while trying to break free against spin.
There isn’t too much rain expected in the Jharkhand capital on Sunday, so unlike Lucknow, a full 50-over game could be on the cards. For trivia, that 2019 game in Ranchi was also the last time Virat Kohli made a home ODI hundred.