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Road to the World Cup: What India needs to set right in England ODI series

By Jigar Mehta | PUBLISHED: 25, Aug 2014, 17:15 pm IST | UPDATED: 26, Aug 2014, 13:31 pm IST

Road to the World Cup: What India needs to set right in England ODI series The mental scars of the Test series debacle will take time to heal but the Indian Team needs to get its act together and recuperate quickly. There have been clamors that a good performance in the ODI series will camouflage the Test series humiliation but in reality, the five ODIs are crucial for India's preparation for World Cup 2015.

Cricket's biggest extravaganza is under 200 days away and in the next couple of weeks, six top-ranked sides go head-to-head with eyes firmly set on the coveted trophy.

After the England tour, India will play a five-match ODI series against West Indies at home and then a tri-series featuring Australia and England in Australia. In all, they will play 14 ODIs (15 in case they reach the final of the Tri-series) before the World Cup co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

Considering the fact that five of the 14 ODIs will be played at home, India will be left with just nine matches to adapt to overseas conditions. India hasn't had the best of times in ODIs lately. Although they won their last series against Bangladesh where they sent their second-string side, their performance was far from convincing. Before that, they had a poor outing in the Asia Cup where they couldn't make it to the finals and prior to that they lost series in New Zealand and South Africa where they couldn't even garner a single win (they lost 4-0 (Five-match series) to the Kiwis and 2-0 (Three-match series) against the Proteas).

The England series will be important for preparation as well as to gauge the performance. In order to get back on track, there are certain improvements needed and these ought to be implemented in the England ODIs.

The opening pair needs to fire: We witnessed in the Tests how the opening-stand failure affected the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli who had to come in early and face the new ball. India have been struggling with the opening-stand in ODIs too.

After a very good start to their partnership, the Rohit Sharma-Shikhar Dhawan pair has fizzled out. In the last 12 innings the pair averages 25.08 with just two 50-run stands. Overall, they have amassed 1481 runs at an average of 49.36 from 31 innings.

There are not many options available for the opening slot. Robin Uthappa was in contention but he had an average series against Bangladesh and then a disastrous Australia A tour which led to his axing from the England ODIs. There is just one more option in Ajinkya Rahane but if he flops then India will be in big trouble — hence the current Rohit-Dhawan pair has to fire.

On the bouncy pitches and seaming conditions in Australia and New Zealand, a good start and a better platform will be the need of the hour. It was in England that Sharma and Dhawan kicked off their campaign as an opening pair in the 2013 Champions Trophy and they can take inspiration from the fact that they ended the tournament with an average of 76.40, amassing 382 runs from five innings helping India clinch the trophy.

High time Suresh Raina plays a responsible role: Once termed as the future of India, Suresh Raina hasn't done justice to his talent. The 27-year-old has been an integral part of the limited overs setup for nine years now but he has had a roller-coaster ride in ODIs of late.

After consistent poor performances, he was dropped for the Asia Cup earlier this year but following a decent performance in the IPL, he clawed his way back into the team as captain for the Bangladesh ODI series. However, his form is still a big concern. In the last 27 innings in ODIs, he averages 27.04, scoring 595 runs with just a single half-century. His record outside Asia isn't good either - he averages just 28.24 (with three fifties) compared to his career average of 35.32.

His weakness against short deliveries only adds to the woes. Yuvraj Singh's ouster has meant that India's middle order is relatively inexperienced. Raina has played 192 ODIs now and is one of the most experienced batsmen in the middle order after Dhoni. He will be a vital cog in this batting wheel. It won't be just about finishing, he will need to have the patience and skills to bide his time in the middle and learn the art of building an innings in case of a poor start. He needs to step up a gear. This is the best chance to silence his critics.

Last but not the least, the death bowling needs to improve: This has been a perennial problem hurting India badly. After almost every match or series, we hear MS Dhoni saying "our death bowling needs to improve". It's still the same old story though. Bhuvneshwar Kumar is the one bowler who seems to have taken a step towards improving his death bowling but the others need to learn the art of bowling yorkers and slower deliveries on a consistent basis.

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