In recent years, it has often been said that the Indian cricket team’s bench strength is such that they can easily field three international teams. It is due to this bench strength that India starts as favourites to lift the ODI marquee event hosted by them later this year, despite key injuries.
It has often been seen in the past three editions of the ODI World Cup that the host team went on to win the trophy, and one key reason is the presence of specific all-rounders. If you look at India’s World Cup campaign in 2011, they had the likes of Yuvi, who won matches for them both with the ball and bat, in addition to a handy over of spins from Sehwag, Raina, and Sachin. Similarly, in the 2015 World Cup campaign, Australia had the likes of Faulkner and Mitchell Marsh, who were genuine fast bowling all-rounders suited to Australian conditions, and the same was the case for England in the 2019 World Cup campaign, where they had genuine seam bowling all-rounders like Stokes, Plunkett, and Woakes aligned to English conditions.
This time, the likes of Jadeja and Axar are similarly genuine spinning allrounders well suited to India, in addition to Hardik Pandya, who is a match-winner with both bat and bowl in any conditions in ODI cricket.
Indian spinners like Kuldeep Yadav and Chahal are genuine match winners with the ball in Indian conditions, and India is one side that has both finger spinners and wrist spinners in plenty on their side, so India can have at least 30 overs of quality spin, which would be difficult to contend with in these conditions. Kuldeep has an impeccable average of 26 and a strike rate of 31 with the ball, and his economy rate of 5.16 is not bad. He won matches for India in the previous world cup, especially the match against Pakistan, where he got a class batsman like Babar with a jaffa, thus highlighting his big-match temperament. His IPL economy rate is 6.5, which is again impeccable, and thus he will be a key bowler for India this World Cup. Due to Hardik being on the sidelines, India can also have at least 30 overs of quality pace should they opt for only two pacers in addition to Hardik. Thus, Indian bowling is potent enough to trouble any team even if Bumrah is not fully fit. rested Shami and Siraj, raring to go, with backup options being Shardul Thakur, who averages around 20 with the ball this season with a decent economy rate of around 5, and the impeccable new guy Mukesh Kumar, known for his accuracy.
The worst affected part of the Indian team due to injuries is the middle order, with injuries to Pant, Iyer, and KL Rahul. While Pant may not be fully fit and Iyer is also doubtful for the World Cup, Rahul is expected to return and should be fully fit before the 3-match ODI series against the Aussies preceding the World Cup. Yet let us for a second take all three of them out of the scene hypothetically. Thus, India’s No. 4 and No. 5 slots need to be filled. We have Samson, who has averaged nearly 60 since July 2022 and around 56 since 2021 with a decent strike rate of 104 and has batted consistently in those slots in ODIs. And due to the IPL exposure in addition to the India A tours, he has sufficient exposure to prove that he can perform well under pressure. Thus, one of the two slots can easily be filled by him, and since he is a wicketkeeper, he can be the wicketkeeper as well.
Jadeja averages 33 in ODI cricket, batting at no. 7 mostly throughout his career, but in recent times he has batted at no. 6 in test cricket with considerable success, averaging over 40 in test cricket. Most importantly, he can play the sheet anchor and the aggressor as well, thus making him suited to that spot. Thus, even in a hypothetical scenario where all injured players miss out, India has the resources to plug the gaps in the middle order.
India’s top order is composed of Rohit, Gill, and King Kohli, with Ishan Kishan being the backup opener, and is all in peak form leading up to the World Cup. With Hardik, Surya, and Axar in the no. 6, 7, and 8 positions, this is a deep and destructive batting line-up that can consistently post big totals even though Surya has fared poorly in ODIs batting in the middle order or top order, but one can hardly argue that Surya being at no. 6 or 7 would have roughly 10-15 overs to contend with, which is exactly the scenario that he faces in T20 cricket, where he has ruled the world, and in the last match against the West Indies, he scored 35 of 30 batting at 6, thus highlighting the fact that he is better utilised in the lower middle order. Indian fielding is top-notch, with older pros like Jadeja and King Kohli still being the best in business and the younger lot following suit, and they easily save 20 extra runs at least every match.
Last but not least, India has a captain in Rohit Sharma who knows how to win big titles and provides a secure team environment wherein the players can express themselves freely and fearlessly.