India’s Selection Dilemma: The Role of Shardul Thakur in the World Cup Squad
The Role of Role Players in Team Sports
Every major team sport has some version of a role player, who may not get much playing time but has a specific role designed for them. Basketball has the 6th man, a position recognized with an award reserved for it. In the NFL, even players who do not play much have specific plays designed for them. Football has recently increased substitutions allowed in a game. Similarly, baseball, hockey, and handball have substitutes.
However, cricket does not indulge in this shared patronage of team sports. Each player in cricket has immense value and is expected to contribute significantly to the team.
The Limited Role of Role Players in Cricket
In cricket, each player in a team’s lineup is expected to contribute significantly. Wicket-keepers have made way for glove wielders who can also bat, while all-rounders remain the most prized asset in the sport.
India’s World Cup Squad
India named their 15-member World Cup squad but reserved two spots for what Sanjay Manjrekar would describe as ‘bits and pieces’ cricketers – Shardul Thakur and Axar Patel. Shardul Thakur has been a regular in India’s ODI side in recent years, but does he provide enough value to cement such a valuable spot?
Shardul Thakur as a Bowler
Thakur primarily operates as a strike bowler in ODIs, responsible for taking wickets in the middle overs. However, a closer look at his numbers reveals concerns. Since the 2019 World Cup, Thakur averages 34.6 with the ball against the top-six ranked teams in the world, with a high economy rate of 6.81. He has also conceded the most fours and second most sixes among bowlers of the 10 teams that qualified for the World Cup.
Thakur’s Batting Abilities
As a batsman, Thakur’s average of 16.54 at number eight in ODIs is the lowest among players who have played at least 100 balls in the ongoing World Cup cycle. This is concerning, especially when compared to other Indian players who have outscored him at that position.
The Issue with Axar Patel
Axar Patel, Thakur’s replacement in the squad, does not offer a significant improvement. While he has a slightly better batting average, his bowling performance is below par, and including him in the lineup would make India’s lineup one-dimensional.
India’s Approach to One-Day Cricket
India’s approach to one-day cricket emphasizes playing an all-rounder at number eight, following England’s winning formula. However, India’s all-rounders, including Thakur, do not match up to the quality of players like Mitchell Marsh, Marcus Stoinis, Chris Woakes, and Sam Curran.
Is Batting Depth Necessary at Number Eight?
India’s top-seven batsmen have an average of 42 per dismissal since the 2019 World Cup, which is the joint highest. The strike rate of 96.93 is second only to England’s. The bottom four batsmen in India’s lineup have average performances, indicating that batting depth at number eight is not necessary.
The Need for Specialist Seamers
India could benefit from slotting in a specialist seamer at number eight, given their current options. Fielding a pace trio of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, and Mohammed Shami could be ideal, as Bumrah has an impressive record between overs 25 and 35. This would strengthen India’s ability to strike in the middle overs, a crucial factor in winning World Cups.
The Weak Link in India’s ODI Lineup
Shardul Thakur is the weak link in India’s ODI lineup. If he fails to emerge as an elite strike bowler in the World Cup, it could prove fatal for India’s hopes of winning their first ICC event in a decade.