It seems like everything has fallen into place for Team India in their second warm-up fixture leading into the World Cup. After a blip against the Kiwis, the Men in Blue flexed their muscles and more importantly got some clarity to a few unanswered questions that have threatened to derail their campaign, against Bangladesh when they notched up a 95-run win at the Sophia Gardens in Cardiff.
Here are the key takeaways from India's World Cup warm-up fixtures-
Opening pair form is a worry?
Well, if you look at the volume of runs that the opening pair have accumulated ever since they got together at the Sophia Gardens, six years ago, and the amount of pedigree that they boast of, especially in ICC events, you won't fret much about the form they displayed in the warm-up fixtures.
Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan along with Virat Kohli have been the cornerstone for India's success and have contributed to almost 52 percent of the runs that the team has scored since the last World Cup. But the duo hasn't looked at their vintage best thus far. You might turn around and argue that these are just warm-up games but the mode of dismissal is something that would have worried the Indian fans.
Left-arm seamers have been the nemesis for both Rohit and Shikhar and the opposition bowlers seemed to work that out against the duo. Trent Boult exploited it to the holt in the first game when he sent both Sharma and Dhawan [1 off 9 balls] packing and Mustafizur did an encore against the Southpaw yesterday when Dhawan in an attempt to whip the ball past mid-wicket played all around it only to be trapped LBW. Rohit Sharma [19 off 42 balls] also looked rusty in his two outings and the fact that he misjudged the length of delivery while trying to pull Rubel Hossain testified it.
It is true the kind of pitches that the openers' encountered in the warm-ups is nothing but what they'll get in the actual tournament but the fact that if on a cloudy day where the ball is seaming around, questions still remain unanswered around their technique to counter them.
Rahul shuts the door on the No.4 spot
For KL Rahul, life seems to have completed a full circle after his superlative century in the warm-up game against Bangladesh. Rahul was the first batsman to be tried for the No.4 spot since the 2017 Champions Trophy.
Multiple contenders and a Koffee scandal later, Rahul seemed to have finally nailed his spot at No.4. The most pleasing aspect of Rahul is his eye-catching strokeplay. When on a song, his backfoot punches, cover-drives that rival those of Virat Kohli's and lofted shots in front of the square are a sight to behold.
On Tuesday, Rahul married his strokeplay with temperament and showed why his form and consistency at No.4 could go on to define India's campaign. Like in the first game, Rahul came to the crease after Team India had lost both of their openers. India were 2-50 after 14 overs when he joined Virat Kohli [47 off 46 balls] at the crease. The Indian captain was looking in sublime touch and was in desperate need to up the ante and Rahul got on with his job by targeting the shorter boundary.
Post Shankar's dismissal, Rahul took the innings by the scruff of the neck. Anything short was pulled in front of square, anything full was driven pristinely through the covers.
After Kohli departed for 46, Vijay Shankar came into bat and all of the Indian eyes were on the duo as to who will lay claim to the No.4 spot. Shankar, in his first innings in England, looked tentative and eventually edged the away angler to the keeper. Post Shankar's dismissal, Rahul took the innings by the scruff of the neck. Anything shirt was pulled in front of square, anything full was driven pristinely through the covers.
One major difference in Rahul's innings from his knock at the Oval was how he transferred his body weight from the back foot to his front leg which aided him to nail his cover-drives. Apart from the fast bowlers, Rahul was ruthless in his approach against the spinners. Shakib Al Hasan, in particular, faced the wrath of Rahul's bat. Anything short, Rahul would make some space and deposit the ball between deep square-leg and deep fine-leg while anything flighted was smoked over his head.
Rahul [108 off 99 balls] peddled his way through the nineties quickly with a six off Mustafizur Rahman before completing his ton in the very next over. After completing his ton, Rahul unstrapped his helmet, pushing the grill over his forehead to raise his bat. It might just be a warm-up and though the century will not be registered in any record book, it has given Rahul and India- at least for now- some clarity about the No.4 spot going into their first World Cup game against South Africa.
But Rahul and India will know that South Africa won't be as much a party as Bangladesh turned out to be in the end. The No,4 spot demands versatility, going from an accumulator in case wickets fall early to being an aggressor when the situation demands quick runs. Rahul's form is a good prospect but whether he marries his form with consistency and versatility will be a thing to look out for in the World Cup.
Vintage Dhoni rolls back the years
If Dhoni continues to do what he did at Cardiff, we could be in for some fun in the World Cup.
With India boasting of an inexperienced middle-order, Dhoni's form is going to be pivotal to India's success at the quadrennial event. Coming in at 4-104, Dhoni in his quintessential way did in his first few deliveries what we have been accustomed to in the recent past: defend.
During the initial phase of Dhoni's innings, the host broadcaster displayed a stat that highlighted Dhoni's falling strike-rate in his first 20 balls; it is hovering around 61 since the start of 2018. Dhoni was at 14 from 21 balls at that stage and Sourav Ganguly on air asserted about the value that the former skipper still brings to the table despite his falling strike-rates. With Rahul going gung-ho at the other end, it gave Dhoni a chance to settle down in his rhythm.
In the past 12 months or so, we have seen Dhoni [103 off 78 balls] being uncharismatically tentative against the spinners in the middle overs. But, on Wednesday, the world saw the vintage Dhoni who used to never allow the spinners to settle into a rhythm. The Indian talisman laid into Mehidy Hasan by stepping out and nailing him over deep-wicket while Shakib too was dealt with disdain as anything in his body was carved between fine-leg and deep square-leg.
Dhoni went from a 21-ball 14 to a 40-ball half-century in a jiffy and all of a sudden his pyrotechnics took center stage, and the way he cleared his leg to nail Zayed down the ground to bring up his century accentuated it to the hilt. More than the score it was Dhoni's intent against the spinners in the middle-overs that was a sight to behold and id the Indian wicket-keeper can carry it to the World Cups against more potent attacks, we could be in for a fun World Cup.
What about Vijay Shankar and Kedar Jadhav? Can Jadeja slot his way into the playing 11?
So, with KL Rahul taking pole position as far as the No.4 spot is concerned, where it does it leave Vijay Shankar? Will it be fair on Shankar, who was touted as the front runner for No. 4 spot after his impressive returns in the middle-order against Australia and New Zealand, after one failure in his first-ever knock on English soil?
And, what about Kedar Jadhav? Jadhav did not feature in both the warm-up matches as he still continues to recover from his shoulder injury. So, will India take a risk of playing him straight into their opening World Cup against South Africa or will Vijay Shankar or Ravindra Jadeja get a chance at the No.6 spot? Jadeja has made a good case of himself to be considered in the first choice playing 11 if Jadhav fails to recover.
With the bat, Jadeja gives India a left-hand option in the top-6. If he can continue what he did against New Zealand in the warm-ups, Jadeja's gun-fielding and more than handy bowling make him a real 3-D player, the selectors have alluded to while selecting the side. Or will the team management go with a seaming all-rounder option in Vijay Shankar?
Shami and Bumrah to open the attack? Kuldeep and Chahal regain form
What you do in your last warm-up game is generally an indication of the strategy and gameplan that the team management has zeroed in for the main tournament. Breaking away from the regular fast bowling pair of Jasprit Bumrah [2-25] and Bhuvneshwar Kumar [0-19], Kohli gave the new ball to Mohammad Shami alongside Bumrah with Bhuvi coming in as first change. Shami [0-22] has been the inform bowler for India this year in ODI cricket and it might not be a surprise if he shares the new ball with Bumrah on June 5th.
But, perhaps the most heartening thing for Kohli and the team-management besides the form of Rahul and Dhoni would have been to see the wrist-spinners- especially Kuldeep Yadav [3-47]- back among the wickets. While Chahal [3-55] was sensational with his guile and wasn't afraid to toss the ball up, paving the way for dismissals Liton Das  and Mithun , Kuldeep gradually settled into a beautiful rhythm. Rahim was flummoxed with the ball that turned in sharply while Mahmudullah got completely deceived with Yadav's trademark wrong'un.
Both the spinners finished with three wickets each and will go into their first game relatively confident of their form, come June 5th.