Bumrah, Siraj, Shami together in India's Playing XI could be a recipe for disaster
Playing Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, and Mohammed Shami in the same starting eleven is alluring, yet it comes with its own set of disadvantages.
In an era of multi-skilled limited-overs cricketers, it's notable that India's 50-over team is liberally populated by specialists – batters who hardly bowl, and bowlers who can’t be realistically expected to chip in with more than a few runs in a crisis.
During India's two successful World Cup campaigns in 1983 and 2011, there was a surfeit of all-round talent. Not all of them were genuine all-rounders in the truest sense, beyond Kapil Dev, but they were very good in one discipline and more than capable in the other. Apart from Kapil, the Class of '83 had Mohinder Amarnath, Roger Binny, Madan Lal, Kirti Azad and Ravi Shastri. The 2011 squad was perhaps even more versatile – Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Suresh Raina, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan. And, of course, Player of the Tournament Yuvraj Singh.
India's World Cup 15 for the 2023 edition has two genuine all-rounders in Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja, and two others who are primarily bowlers and handy with the bat – Axar Patel and Shardul Thakur. It helps that the former is a left-arm spinner and the latter a fast-medium bowler; depending on the conditions and the opposition, India can bolster spin or pace.
Axar or Thakur at No. 8 in the batting order is captain Rohit Sharma and head coach Rahul Dravid's preferred tack, to lengthen the batting and allow for an occasional bad day in the office for the top order. It's this desire to have an additional batting resource lower down that led to the non-consideration in the first place of R Ashwin, a competent batter in the Test arena but without the power game required of someone that low in the order.
Whether India should plump for the 'all-rounder' at No. 8 is a debate that has raged on for a while. Specifically, whether Thakur should occupy that slot if India go in with a fourth pacer to support the new-ball pair and Pandya.
India's pace conundrum
India's three frontline quicks are, in no particular order, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj and Mohammed Shami. This is as good a pace attack as any in the competition, and comfortably better than most. They are skilled, experienced, versatile, capable of taking wickets at any stage of the innings. Bumrah has 126 wickets in 77 ODIs, economy 4.61, strike rate 31.5. The corresponding numbers for Shami and Siraj respectively are 171 wickets in 94 (5.57, 27.4) and 53 in 29 matches (4.76, 24.0). And yet, because of the perceived need for a reasonable batter at No. 8, they seldom play together.
Without disrespect, Thakur as a bowler isn't in the same league as any of this trio. Forty-four ODIs have brought him 63 wickets, impressive, but his economy is an unflattering 6.24. His batting record is passable – 329 runs, average 17.31, strike rate 105.11 – but if India's top order does its job like it should, Thakur the batter will be seldom called into action.
It can't be denied that Thakur has a happy knack of getting wickets – he picks up one every 29.1 deliveries – but the regularity with which he leaks runs and releases the pressure imposed by the new-ball duo can’t be ignored. As a batter, he will perhaps be required to contribute maybe every fifth or sixth innings because anything more than that will be a damning indictment of Gills and the Rohits, the Kohlis and the Rahuls and the Iyers and the Pandyas.
Should India continue to hedge their bets and go with Thakur when they feel the need for a fourth paceman, or should they unleash their three big guns in tandem with Pandya, himself blossoming into an excellent quick who no longer relies only on the short ball to do the damage? If Bumrah, Shami and Siraj perform to potential, the need for an extra batter will become redundant in any case. India have gone in with only five bowlers a few times in the last month, so it wouldn't have been the worst idea to let Bumrah, Shami and Siraj loose in the 'dead rubber' final ODI against Australia on Wednesday, though that is now not possible with a few players, Shami among them, not available.
The duration of the World Cup and the incessant travel won't facilitate a Bumrah-Shami-Siraj combine every game, but India will be well advised not to entirely junk the idea of this triumvirate featuring in the same XI. It will make for exhilarating viewing; more importantly, it will also serve the team's cause better.