Indian cricket team's head coach Ravi Shastri has conceded that their middle-order "looked ordinary" during their 5-1 win over South Africa in the ODI series, which concluded in Centurion on Friday, February 16.
The Men in Blue registered an unprecedented series win in the "Rainbow Nation", winning five matches by convincing margins but Shastri says Virat Kohli's team is "far from ready" for the 2019 World Cup, which will be played in England.
Kohli along with openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma did the bulk of the scoring for India in the ODI series. Notably, the Indian skipper hit 558 runs, thereby becoming the first batsman to score more than 500 runs in a bilateral series.
On the other hand, the team struggled to convert starts into big totals as the middle-order looked fragile throughout the six-match rubber. While Hardik Pandya managed only 26 runs from four innings, wicketkeeper-batsman MS Dhoni hit 69 from four innings at a strike rate of 81.18.
Shastri fires warning?
Troubled by the middle-order woes, Shastri insisted that the team management will "sit down and weigh all options" after the conclusion of the ongoing South Africa tour. However, the coach insisted that Dhoni will continue to be a key member of the team, according to Times of India.
"I will be the first to admit our middle-order batting has looked ordinary. We failed to convert good starts into big totals. So, there are factors we're looking at," Shastri said, as quoted by the newspaper.
"At the same time, there are players back in India who have been doing well in domestic cricket. Over the last six months, we had conveyed [to those who are potential India caps] what the team will be looking at, in terms of skills, fitness, challenges etc. Once this tour concludes, it will be time to revisit those conversations," he added.
"The top-order has batted beautifully and our bowlers were phenomenal but the fifth, sixth and the seventh slot in the batting order needs to be worked upon."
All eyes on Dhoni as India gear up for T20I series
While it is safe to say that Dhoni's big-hitting ability is on the wane, the former World Cup-winning captain's experience and expertise behind the stumps is making him an indispensable member of the team, at least in the 50-over format.
All eyes will be on Dhoni in the upcoming three-match T20I series as the 36-year-old was criticised for not scoring at a decent pace against New Zealand last year. The likes of Ajit Agarkar and VVS Laxman had opined that India needed to look at options beyond the Ranchi stumper, keeping in mind the 2020 World T20.
On the other hand, Pandya's performance in the ongoing tour has been a cause of concern for the team. The 24-year-old, who is being touted as "next Kapil Dev", has scored only 52 runs from eight innings since his valiant 93 in the first Test in Cape Town.
Meanwhile, it seems India are looking to give Ajinkya Rahane an extended run at the No. 4 spot in the batting order in the lead-up to next year's World Cup. While the Mumbai batsman has not set the batting charts on fire, he chipped in with a couple of crucial knocks in the ODI series.