The twelfth edition of Indian Premier League (IPL) ended with a pulsating final that went down the wire to the very last ball.
Mumbai Indians led by Rohit Sharma held their nerves better to emerge triumphant over Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings by the narrowest of all margins -- one run.
The match had all the elements of a limited overs’ cricket in that it provided edge of the seat excitement that was sustained till the end as fortunes kept on swinging.
As Sachin Tendulkar put it so cogently at the end of the match, it was the dismissal of Dhoni through a run out that turned the tide in favour of eventual champions.
But even as Mumbai Indians were celebrating, questions propped up regarding the form of its captain.
It is not in dispute that Rohit Sharma led the side with a calm reassurance that proved vital during the tense moments in the final, when their opponents almost had the trophy within their grasp.
However, he would be the first person to admit that he did not fire with the bat at the top of the order.
A picking of 405 runs from 16 matches at an average of 28.92 with 67 as the highest score tells the story of a cricketer, who suddenly lost the magic that made him one of the most feared batsmen in contemporary limited overs cricket.
And, as this loss of form has come very close to the commencement of ICC world Cup 2019, it has the potential to worry the Indian team management, which is banking on a series of good knocks from Rohit.
Even before the start of IPL, questions were asked about the wisdom of Indian players taking part in a exacting tournament of this nature less than a month before the start of World Cup.
Most of cricketers from other nations had informed about their inability to play in the latter half of IPL, indicating that they preferred to take a break before the World Cup started. When it came to Indian players, Virat Kohli, captain of national side, announced that individual cricketers could decide whether they wished to take some rest or play in the IPL.
As expected, none of the 15 players selected to be part of Indian team felt the need for taking a break from the game.
The reasons for suggesting that cricketers selected for World Cup be spared the rigours of playing the entire gamut of IPL matches were two- risk of injury and fear of exhaustion. Though Kedar Jadhav damaged his shoulder during the match against Kings XI Punjab on May 4, latest reports state that he has recovered fully and would take the flight to England with the rest of the squad on May 22.
Though none of the other players suffered any injuries, it is inevitable that playing a full season of IPL immediately prior to the stress of a full-fledged World Cup campaign would place humongous demands on the body and minds of Indian cricketers.
After the culmination of IPL, a new worry has cropped up and this pertains to the form of individual players.
A quick assessment of the performance sheet of Indian cricketers in IPL indicates that the players who were in good nick during IPL were KL Rahul, Shikar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and Dhoni amongst batsmen and Japrit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Yuzvendra Chahal in the category of bowlers.
Hardik Pandya also shone as an all rounder capable to creating a big impact through his explosive performances.
The performances of Bhuvaneswar Kumar, Ravindra Jadeja and Dinesh Karthik were average and it could be said in their favour that they did not get too many opportunities, given the nature of the matches involved.
However, what would worry the fans of the game is the poor form displayed by Rohit Sharma, Vijay Shankar, Kuldeep Yadav and Kedar Jadhav (before his injury).
With more than 8,000 runs under his belt in One Day Internationals, including two double centuries, a average just short of 50 and strike rate near 100, Rohit Sharma has been the pillar of Indian top order batting ever since he started opening the innings in 2013. He was the second highest scorer during the 2015 World Cup, which stands as proof for his ability and temperamental prowess to come good on the big stage. He has rarely suffered poor form while opening the innings in limited overs’ matches and hence the surprise over the dip in scores from his bat during the just concluded IPL.
India would need Rohit to fire on all cylinders if the side is to fulfil the expectations of the nation that they would come back winners, as they did 36 years ago.
A left arm wrist spinner who bowls wrong ones and Chinamen is a rarity at any level in cricket and Kuldeep Yadav has used this to his advantage during the two years that he has played the game at the highest level.
His tally of 87 wickets in 44 One Day Internationals with four 4 wicket hauls at an average of 21.74 runs per wicket and economy rate of 4.93 stands as testimony to this fact.
However, he fared poorly during IPL 2019, with almost all opposing sides taking him to the cleaners.
In IPL this year, he could pick up only four wickets at a cost of 286 runs from the 33 overs he bowled, with an economy rate of 8.66!
His form was so wretched that he was rested after playing only in 9 matches. No one would disagree on the point that this is not the best preparation that a youngster should have prior to his first World Cup.
One sincerely hopes that Kuldeep is able to leave behind bad memories of IPL in India when he takes the seat in the flight to London on May 22.
Vijaya Shankar was lucky to make the squad ahead of more seasoned campaigners such as Ambati Rayudu and Rishabh Pant.
However, the 'three dimension effect' that he is capable of providing suddenly went missing after the announcement of the squad for World Cup.
He scored only 244 runs in the 15 matches he played with not even a half century to his credit, while picking up just one wicket in the 8 overs that he bowled, conceding 70 runs.
These are not figures that would instil confidence in the minds of either team management or followers of the game, ahead of a tournament such as World Cup.
Kedar Jadhav was not having a good time with either bat or ball in IPL when he injured his shoulder. Since he is not a regular bowler, his lean patch without much wickets in the shortest version of game can be understood.
However, his form with the bat was so miserable that in 14 matches, he could score only 162 runs at an average of 18 and strike rate of 95.85, with a solitary fifty to his credit.
His poor outings with the bat has cast a question mark over his selection, which is now compounded by the injury.
Incidentally, the player who hogged the maximum limelight during IPL 2019 was Rishabh Pant, who did not find favour with the selectors when the team for World Cup was chosen.
Pant had an excellent tournament with the bat, scoring 488 runs with three half centuries.
More importantly, he came good with his big hitting during crunch situations showing that he possesses nerves of steel and a maturity that belies his age.
Selectors who had faced criticism for not including him in the side for World Cup might be be already regretting their decision given the sort of form that this youngster demonstrated in IPL.
India was reckoned as the favourite to win the 2019 World Cup till Australia demonstrated a sudden resurgence during the last couple of months.
England has also been giving indications that they are all set to win the championship that has eluded them despite three appearances in the finals. In this situation, bad form of four players, out of who three are primarily batsmen, is certainly not a good omen so far as India is concerned.
Further, since one of them is a frontline batsman and the question mark over who should bat at the crucial no: 4 slot has still not been answered satisfactorily, the top order of the batting line up appears precarious at the moment.
There have been talks about KL Rahul, who has been in good form in IPL, being asked to bat at no: 4 slot.
This experiment was tried out once during the ODI series against Australia without much success.
However, given the limited options available with team management, it would not be surprising if Rahul makes it to the playing eleven as a middle order batsman.
In such a situation, India would take the field with the following batting line up- Rohit, Dhawan, Kohli, Rahul, Kedar Jadhav, Dhoni, Hardik, followed by the bowlers.
If the poor form of Rohit and Kedar Jadhav continues, pressure would be on the old guard of Kohli and Dhoni to deliver in almost all matches in the championship, given the mercurial nature of Dhawan’s batting and the relative inexperience of Rahul at no: 4 slot.
These two veterans have risen to the occasion whenever demanded but it is unfair to expect that they should continue to bear the weight of expectations of the entire country every time they step on the field, especially in the pressure cooker arena of World Cup. To provide some respite to this duo, Rohit should rediscover his form and Rahul should adapt to his new batting slot, at the same speed with which Kedar Jadhav recovered from his injury.
India’s hopes in the championship that starts in two weeks’ time hinges on these developments.
As an ardent fan of the national side and an incorrigible optimist, I hope and pray that all the players who are part of the squad attain peak form by the time India take on South Africa in their first match of ICC World Cup 2019 at Rose Bowl Cricket ground on June 5.