You can find part 1 of this article here on @Fanatikkind. It is like one of these Arrowverse crossover episodes, you know, moving between different worlds. I assure you that both pieces will be worth your while, unlike Arrow and The Flash. 

Okay, Arrow and The Flash weren’t bad either. Or at least they weren’t bad at the start. And I sure did love them at the beginning. Disappointing, though, how soon those two became unwatchable. 

I went back to watching parts of The Flash sometime back, a result of a wild late-night Youtube run, where you click something, you keep on clicking, and boom, it is the Sun God appearing before you like sergeant James Doakes. Wasn’t Jordan Fisher brilliant as Bart Allen? Almost tricked me into starting the series all over again. 

Okay, this is not one of those wild runs I was talking about where you will be drawn in promising something and then taken somewhere else. The Indian bowling unit really does have a problem—a big one. It is called ‘we don’t have a direct counter to middle-order LHBs’. And what’s worse? There is no easy fix. This has been on my mind for a long time now, and I brooded over the topic for a good one hour before starting this article as well.

It is simple: they can’t solve this. 

Ravindra Jadeja is India’s first choice for the No.7 spot. In his absence, Axar Patel will take over the role from him. And Yuzvendra Chahal is India’s first choice for the specialist spinner spot. None of the three loves bowling at the left-handers. 

And spinners don’t get injured frequently. So, it will be this – Jadeja at No.7 and Chahal at No.8. Make peace with it. Jadeja has averaged 52 runs per wicket against left-hand batters since 2018. Axar Patel is at 45 runs per wicket in the same period.

Do you want to know Axar’s average against LHB this year? 111. 

One Hundred and Eleven Runs Per Wicket. Oh boy! 

Chahal is better, though. Much better. But he is still floaty and often full. In Australia, he wouldn’t be getting a lot of purchase off the deck, making things more challenging for him. 

  • Yuzvendra Chahal vs Top 5 LHB in IPL since 2018: Avg – 26.4; ER – 8.2
  • Yuzvendra Chahal vs Top 5 RHB in IPL since 2018: Avg – 20.4; ER – 7.2

See the problem? Even Chahal enjoys bowling at right-handers a lot more; he averages 5 runs lesser per wicket and concedes on an average 1 run lesser per over against RHB. And for a traditional leg-spinner who doesn’t have a great googly, it is not surprising. This may not be as alarming as Jadeja or Axar’s record against left-handers, but when he is bowling with little LHB-counter support at the other end, that will be The Long Night for you.

It is maybe because of this that the Indian team management was flirting with the option of having Ravichandran Ashwin in the XI for a while and why they had Deepak Hooda around the squad even when he had no case. But both are nowhere close to being part of the World Cup first XI now.

And India can’t mend it without sacrificing something as important. For example, they could drop one of Chahal and Jadeja for Ashwin or Sundar, but that would either leave them with no wrist spinner in the XI or a less suited No.7 batter. If they choose to bench Dinesh Karthik for Hooda, they will lose a lot of range against pace at the death.

They have to hope Chahal, one of their chief secondary LHB counter options, has a good day and that one of the pace bowlers shuts down the opposition’s best middle-order LHB threat. Alternatively, they can completely cook their bowling performance up and rely on their batting unit to carry the extra load.

Speaking of pace bowlers, do you know that Harshal Patel does better against right-hand batters as well? It is like the perfect S storm that’s brewing. 

  • Harshal Patel vs LHB in IPL since 2021: Avg – 24.5; ER – 8.9
  • Harshal Patel vs RHB in IPL since 2021: Avg – 13.9; ER – 7.3

The pecking order for the pace trio seems to be Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Harshal Patel, with Deepak Chahar and Avesh Khan as the first and second backups, respectively. Good news – there is a neat little batting depth this first-choice combination creates with Harshal at No.8 and Bhuvneshwar at No.9. 

Bad news? There is not enough raw pace value in the XI. Both Bhuvneshwar and Harshal are medium pace bowlers. I have this great line on India’s reliance on Bumrah – they use him like Dolo 650. Problem up front? Call Bumrah. Problem in enforcing? Call Bumrah. And, of course, he should be there at the death.

The Men in Blue need at least one more bowler in Australia who could hit back of length at 140+ kph. 

In the absence of Bumrah, Avesh Khan is likely to take his spot in the first game. And he is capable of hitting the deck hard at pace. This is his best chance to make a case and get ahead of Bhuvneshwar or Harshal. 

From the Indian coach Rahul Dravid’s pre-series press conference, it is clear that Arshdeep Singh is next in line, with Umran Malik only likely to get a chance if the series is won.

The key to India overcoming these bowling issues is Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli delivering with the bat. And the positive is that the duo will be playing on decks with pace and bounce. Kohli averages 64 and strikes at 144.5 in Australia, his second-highest average and strike rate in a country in his T20I career. While Rohit doesn’t have a great record in Australia, it is more a sample size issue than an indicator of his ability. 

This will be India’s No.7-11 for Game 1 of the India-SA series: Axar Patel, Harshal Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Avesh Khan, Yuzvendra Chahal. But it doesn’t matter much. They need help from the Top 3 if the team is to go all the way in the upcoming World Cup. Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, and Virat Kohli can’t leave this to the middle order again as they did in the UAE edition. If they do, the dream will be over too soon for Team India.

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