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Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid of India chat during a training session at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown on July 26. Image Credit: AFP

Bridgetown: India head coach Rahul Dravid has defended the decision to experiment excessively with the team combination in the ongoing ODI series against West Indies and the call to rest skipper Rohit Sharma and fellow experienced batter Virat Kohli in the second match, which visitors lost at the Kensington Oval, on Saturday.

After rejigging their batting line-up in the first ODI, India continued their experimentation as they rested Rohit and Kohli for the second ODI and the move backfired as the Caribbean team cruised to a six-wicket triumph that squared the series at 1-1 on Saturday.

However, Dravid isn’t too concerned with the results and explained the selection decision, saying that it was important to get a look at fringe players like Sanju Samson, Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav ahead of the upcoming Asia Cup and ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup later this year.

Last chance

“This (series) was our last chance to try out some of our players. We have a few players injured at the NCA. With a month to go for the Asia Cup, we’re running out of time in a lot of ways. We’re hopeful that some of them will be fit for the Asia Cup and the World Cup. We can’t take those chances. We’ve to try out other players and give some chances, so that in a worst-case scenario they have some game time behind them,” Dravid told reporters after the game.

“It gives us some time to make decisions on players. We just felt that, in a series like this, with just two-three matches to go before the Asia Cup, playing with Virat and Rohit would not have given us too many answers. With the injuries we have at the NCA and some uncertainty around them, we wanted to give the other boys some chance. So that, if required, they can play,” he added.

In both the games so far, Ishan Kishan has opened the batting in the company of Shubman Gill. The left-hander has in fact been the only visiting batter to do well so far in the two matches — hitting back to back consecutive half-centuries.

Experiments continue

The experiments have continued in the middle order as well. While Suryakumar Yadav and Hardik Pandya batted at No 3 and 4 respectively in the first match, Sanju Samson and Axar Patel were sent in those positions for the second game. Even as the series is on the line going into the third ODI, Dravid insists that the focus will be on the experiments rather than the result.

“We will always look at the bigger picture. At this stage in the cycle, with the Asia Cup and the World Cup coming up, in some ways with the injuries that we have, we have to look at the bigger picture. We can’t look at every single game and every single series. If we do that, I think it will be a mistake,” he said.

While Kishan impressed at the top of the order, Samson (9) and Suryakumar (24) missed golden opportunities to push their case to be included in India squad for the home World Cup later this year as India squandered a 90-run opening partnership when skittled for just 181 on a difficult batting pitch in Bridgetown.

Tricky wicket

“We knew it was a tricky wicket and not an easy wicket to bat on and we knew we needed to get 230 or 240 and we felt that would have been a very good and competitive score,” Dravid said. .

“We lost wickets in bunches after Shubman (Gill) and Ishan gave us a good start. But we needed someone to bat until the end and we lost wickets in the middle and were 50 or 60 runs short,” he added.

After his continuous failure, the questions are still lingering on Suryakumar’s performances in 50-over cricket. He has registered scores of 19 and 24, extending his ODI career’s sub-par record in which he averages only 23.80 across 25 games.

“Surya is a really good player, there is no doubt about that. He has shown that. Especially in T20 cricket, in domestic cricket, in white-ball cricket. He has some very good performances. He would be the first one to admit that his ODI numbers haven’t been up to the standards or the standards that he has set in T20. He’s also probably learning ODIs. He has played a lot of competitive T20 cricket through the IPL before he made his debut for India. In One-dayers he hasn’t played as much competitive cricket, because there is no IPL for one-dayers,” the India coach said.

“He’s also learning about his game, and learning to bat in the middle overs. He is a talent and we want to give him as many opportunities as we can. It is really up to him now to take those opportunities and use those opportunities. In the kind of set-up we are, we give people as many chances as we possibly can,” he added.

Continuous rain

The 50-year-old Dravid explained how Kishan has been able to make good use of the opportunities that have come his way time and again in ODIs. Kishan, who has never had a continuous run in the Indian team, averages 44.07 in 16 ODIs, which includes a double century and five fifties.

“Ishan has done really well, this is his third fifty in a row, counting the Test match as well. He’s taking the opportunities when given a chance. That’s all that we ask from young players. We want to give them as many chances as we possibly can. We can’t give chances to everyone all the time. There are other talented guys as well. We try as much as we can,” he said.

“Today to give people chances, Virat and Rohit sat out. We might have to take those risks, take those chances in situations like that. If we’re building for big tournaments and big events, we need to build some players and get some answers for specific positions, especially considering the situation we’re in,” he concluded.