India begin their Asia Cup 2018 campaign with a Group A clash against minnows Hong Kong on Tuesday, a day before the much-anticipated tie against Champions Trophy winners Pakistan, in Dubai.
With only a little more than six months to go for the sport's premier competition — 2019 Cricket World Cup, the ongoing tournament provides the Asian giants with an opportunity to figure out their potential combinations for the quadrennial showpiece.
India are being touted as one of the favourites for World Cup glory next year but the Men in Blue have a few areas of concern, especially when it comes to their middle-order which has been misfiring in the recent past.
India top-order, consisting the infallible trio of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan has scored the bulk of runs, in fact, 64.49 percent since January 1, 2016, according to ESPNCricinfo. When none of the top three scores at least a fifty, India end up losing 57 percent of their matches.
The Asian giants have tried to address the issue but haven't been able to find players who fit into the No. 4 and No. 5 spot in the playing XI.
Going into the Asia Cup, India would be hoping to settle their middle-order woes. With captain Kohli unavailable, opening batsman KL Rahul is likely to play at No. 3.
Who will bat for India at No. 4?
India have quite a few options to choose from when it comes to the No. 4 spot as the likes of Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, and Ambati Rayudu are back in the ODI set-up after missing the three-match series in England earlier this year.
Pandey, given his recent form (unbeaten scores of 95, 21, 117, 73) for India A, may get the nod ahead of Rayudu and Karthik for the tournament opener against Hong Kong. India can also try Rayudu at No.3, considering the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) star averages 81.28 in 11 innings at the said spot.
Dhoni at No. 4?
Nonetheless, former India pacer Zaheer Khan, during his preview show for the Cricbuzz, had opined Rohit's team will be well-served at the Asia Cup if they bat Dhoni higher-up the order at No.4.
Considering Dhoni's recent struggles at finishing innings, especially in the 50-over format, allowing the veteran wicketkeeper-batsman more time to get settled is certainly not a bad idea.
Kedar Jadhav is likely to be part of the playing XI as the 33-year-old is known for his finishing abilities and more importantly, part-time spin bowling which may come in handy on the dry surface in Dubai.
Rohit will have no hesitation playing Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav on Tuesday as the spin twins have been India's match-winners in the 50-over format since they replaced finger spinners R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja last year.
While Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah are favourites to share the new ball for the second-ranked side, India may be tempted to hand left-arm pacer Khaleel Ahmed his debut against Hong Kong, who were comfortably thrashed by Pakistan in the Group A opener on Sunday.
Predicted playing XI of India
Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma (c), KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, MS Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Khaleel Ahmed.