ICC World Cup 2019: No. 4 returns as No. 1 concern for India

SOUTHAMPTON: India averted a minor catastrophe on Saturday when they sneaked to an 11-run win over Afghanistan at the Hampshire Bowl here. The dramatic win, capped by 
Mohammed Shami
's brilliant hat-trick, the last act in an absorbing play, kept India's unbeaten record in the tournament intact. Some hiccups against Afghanistan apart, they are well on their way to the semifinals.

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But the story would have received a wicked twist had Shami and 
Jasprit Bumrah
 had not bailed India out with some sensational limited overs bowling. India were also helped by the inexperience and nervousness of Afghanistan batsmen some of whom played atrocious shots to get out even when the match was well within grasp.

The Indian batsmen had put their team in real bother after plodding to 224/8 batting first. Captain 
Virat Kohli
 was just about the only batter who batted without trouble on a tricky, but not unplayable, pitch. The rest found Afghanistan's spinners almost impossible to get away.
More than anything, India's middle order was exposed once again. The combined brilliance of Kohli, 
 and 
 has managed to hide the frailties of the middle order so far. But with Dhawan out with an injury now, if both Sharma and Kohli fail on the same day, the team will be under real pressure. There will be those odd days when the middle order would be called upon to get the job done. One hopes, it will rise to the challenge then.

All's well that ends well. But sometimes, questions remain long after the final rites have been completed. Allrounder Vijay Shankar is a game trier who has the backing of the team management. He is there to perform a role. But is he a good enough batsman to bat for India at No. 4? His limited batting abilities do not inspire much confidence. And if he does not have to bowl a single over in a game -- as happened on Saturday -- then his utility value diminishes even further.

MS Dhoni's inability to rotate the strike during his 52-ball 28 in the later stages of the innings and the failure of the lower order meant India were at least 20 to 30 runs short of what would have been a par total.

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