Hardik, Babar, Rashid, and other irreplaceable players

Here are players who can’t be replaced and could make/break their respective team’s campaign in the ODI World Cup

There are some players who can’t be replaced. They don’t have to be superstars. They could just be players with specific roles. It largely depends on what they bring to the table. Does the team have anyone else who could play that specific role? Not just that, how big is the difference between that particular player and the replacement? We have considered these factors and tried to come up with irreplaceable players who could make/break their respective team’s campaign in the forthcoming ODI World Cup.  

India – Hardik Pandya

Pretty obvious, isn’t it? The Men in Blues have way too many superstars in their World Cup squad, but if there’s one player who can’t be replaced, it’s Hardik Pandya. To put it bluntly, there’s no one like him in the Indian domestic circuit. The fast-bowling all-rounder is built for such big tournaments and his numbers of late have been quite good. 

Since 2022, Pandya has scored 472 runs in 14 innings at an average of 36.31 and a strike rate of 95.3. On top of that, the right-arm seamer is also averaging 22 with the ball in this period and has operated at an economy of just 5.1. What’s more, Pandya has a superb record against the top sides. He averages over 42 against teams like Australia, England, Pakistan, New Zealand and South Africa, and that tells you why you need him in ICC events.

If you want to look at what he brings to the table, just go back to the Asia Cup. India were reduced to 66/4 in their first game against Pakistan and Pandya stepped up, scoring 87 off 90 deliveries. He also picked up six wickets in four innings @ an average of 11.33 and an economy rate of 3.34, which was the best amongst bowlers who picked up at least five wickets in the tournament. In his presence, India don’t need to play a third seamer and could easily play one more spin-bowling all-rounder to get more balance and depth in their line-up. 

Pakistan – Babar Azam

Now that Naseem Shah is out of the World Cup, Pakistan’s bowling won’t have the same lethality despite having Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf in their arsenal. Pakistan’s bowling has often made up for their inconsistent batting, but that might not be the case in this year’s showpiece event. Hence, the Men in Green will need consistency from their batters, with Babar Azam at the helm. When it comes to the 50-over format, there aren’t too many better than the Pakistan skipper.

The right-hander is averaging 64.12 with the bat since 2019 and has 19 fifties and 11 centuries in just 53 innings. Only Shai Hope (3278, 136 more than Babar) has more runs in this period but he has played 19 more innings. Apart from India (29) and Afghanistan (39.5), Babar has an average of more than 50 against every single opponent. The likes of Imam-Ul-Haq, Mohammad Rizwan, Fakhar Zaman and Iftikhar Ahmed have all produced good numbers in recent years, but Babar is a different gravy.  

England – Adil Rashid

The defending champions have a readymade replacement for every player except Adil Rashid. England don’t have a decent back-up for the legspinner and would lack a proper wicket-taker in the middle overs without Rashid. He is England’s only frontline spinner, with others being spin-bowling all-rounders. Rashid is their highest wicket-taker in the last two years and is their only bowler with a strike rate of less than 30 (minimum 50 overs). 

Australia – Adam Zampa

The leg-spinner hasn’t been at his best in the last four games and Australia have lost all those matches. What Rashid is to England, Zampa is to Australia. The five-time champions can’t survive without Zampa, who has produced exceptional numbers despite having a couple of off games. Despite getting whacked for 113 runs in a game against South Africa, Zampa has 45 wickets in 21 ODIs since 2022, at an economy rate of 5.5. 

Amongst the top-10 teams, only Mohammed Siraj (53 in 28 games) has more wickets than him in this time frame. When it comes to the middle overs, Zampa (33 wickets @ 23.9) has the best numbers for Australia and compliments the quicks very well. The leggie has five four-wicket hauls and one five-wicket haul since 2022 and is going to be Australia’s main man in the showpiece event. 

South Africa – Heinrich Klaasen

The 32-year-old has completely transformed South Africa’s batting since 2022. Klaasen’s all-round game against pace and spin makes him one of the best middle-order batters of the current time, if not the best. Very recently, the right-hander smoked 174 off 83 deliveries against Australia and registered the highest individual score for a No. 5 batter in ODIs. The big man clobbered 13 maximums and as many fours, and has given everyone an ultimatum prior to the World Cup. Just his presence makes South Africa a dangerous unit.

Also read: Welcome to the brutal world of Heinrich Klaasen

In 15 innings since the start of last year, he has scored 710 runs at an average of 54.62 and a strike rate of 133.7, studded with two fifties and as many centuries. Amongst batters who have scored at least 500 runs in the middle overs (11-40) since 2022, Klaasen has the best strike rate (125.32) and balls/boundary (6.42). Overall as well, his strike rate of 133.71 is the best amongst batters who have scored at least 500 runs since the start of last year. For South Africa to have a good World Cup, Klaasen needs to fire.  

New Zealand – Devon Conway

The left-hander’s experience of playing in the Indian Premier League could prove to be vital for the Black Caps. Conway is the best batter of spin bowling in the New Zealand batting line-up, making him irreplaceable. Well, that’s not just it. His opening partner Will Young is still unproven in these conditions, while Kane Williamson hasn’t played any cricket since April, and that will put even more pressure on Conway.

Against spin, the 32-year-old has an average of 92 and a strike rate of 87.8 in his ODI career. Amongst batters who have scored at least 300 runs against spin since 2021, Conway has the fifth-best average and balls/dismissal (104.8). New Zealand have Tom Latham and Daryl Mitchell in the middle-order but the top-order doesn’t really look convincing and that’s where Conway will have to make an impact.  

Sri Lanka – Maheesh Theekshana

Wanindu Hasaranga is reportedly out of the World Cup, leaving the onus of Sri Lanka’s spin department on Theekshana’s shoulders. Sri Lanka do have some quality spin-bowling all-rounders but none of them are as good as Theekshana. The 23-year-old can bowl in all three phases of the game and is an asset for any captain. The mystery spinner has 40 wickets in his last 26 ODIs and an economy of just 4.5. Though he himself is recovering from a hamstring injury and his form is going to be extremely important for Sri Lanka.   

Bangladesh – Shakib Al Hasan

606 runs @ 86.57 and 11 wickets at a strike rate of 40.3 – the spin-bowling all-rounder delivered one of the best performances in the World Cup history in 2019 and even then Bangladesh could win only three of their nine games. So, imagine what would have happened if Shakib hadn’t fired. He is the one who holds the Bangladesh team together and the numbers suggest the same.

Shakib doesn’t only average 36.59 with the bat in 34 ODIs since 2021 but has also claimed 48 wickets at an average of 24.5 and an economy rate of 4.2. He is Bangladesh’s fourth-highest run-scorer and second-highest wicket-taker in this period. Mushfiqur Rahim and Liton Das also have impressive numbers with the bat, but most of their runs have come against lower-ranked teams, which is not the case with Shakib. 

Afghanistan – Ibrahim Zadran

We could have easily gone with Rashid Khan, but Afghanistan don’t have a shortage of spinners, and that’s why Ibrahim Zadran becomes their most crucial player. The 21-year-old has an average of 53.58 in 19 ODIs, decorated with four tons and as many fifties. On top of that, Zadran has a staggering average of 126.33 against spin since 2022, which is the best for a batter with more than 300 runs. He is the only Afghanistan batter with an average of more than 40 and is someone who is made to excel in Indian conditions.  

Netherlands – Bas de Leede

The 23-year-old all-rounder is going to be Netherlands’ most important player in the World Cup. He set the Qualifiers on fire earlier this year and the Netherlands would want him to keep that form going. He is a clutch player for the Netherlands and it was his 5 for 52 and 123 off 92 balls in the must-win game against Scotland that propelled them to the World Cup. In 2023, de Leede has 285 runs in seven innings at an average of 47.5 and a strike rate of 101.1. What’s more, he also has 15 wickets at a strike rate of 22.1. He is to Netherlands what Pandya is to India.

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