Another overseas ODI, another abject, meek surrender by Team India. Of their last 8 ODIs, India have lost six, tied one, with the other being washed out. Of the 6 games, they’ve lost 5 chasing. So, not only is the bowling not clicking, the batting has been largely poor as well. But for Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni, there has been no form of resistance that the batsmen have offered to the fast bowlers on conditions that are not suited perfectly to their game. At this rate, defending the World Cup next year in Australia and New Zealand will be nothing short of a miracle.
So, where do Team India’s problems lie, and what can they do to fix those problems?
It is very easy to say that India didn’t bat well, didn’t bowl well, and didn’t field well, but what Duncan Fletcher and his team have to do is to sit and have a long, hard look at themselves and the decisions that they have been taking. In conditions that were slightly more suited to pace bowling, it was baffling that Stuart Binny got picked for only one game, one in which he played a minuscule role, too. The bowling has been much talked about, but the batting has been equally shocking as well. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan had a fantastic home season, but in the 8 overseas games, they have hardly made a contribution, specifically Dhawan. With the experience of Gautam Gambhir waiting in the wings, it might not be a particularly bad idea to push one of them back down into the middle order and draft Gambhir into the squad.
For the likes of Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane and Ambati Rayudu, these two tours have been a steep learning curve. While Rahane stuck to his guns in the Tests against South Africa, he couldn’t get going in the ODIs, whereas Dhawan kept repeating the same mistakes time and again. Sometimes, it is important to curb your natural instincts and respect the bowling, atleast until you’ve settled down, but Dhawan has repeatedly got out looking to play extravagant strokes. If India are to succeed in ODIs, then the batsmen need to step up to support Kohli and Dhoni, who have waged lone battles in vain against the Kiwis.
The bowling has never been India’s strength, and that fact doesn’t seem to be changing. A part of the reason for India’s ODI success in 2013 was Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s ability to take wickets with the new ball. That doesn’t seem to be there any more. Ishant Sharma has been as frustrating as he has been throughout his career, and although Varun Aaron and Mohammad Shami have shown patches of promise, they have been largely inconsistent.
When your lead spinner has picked up 2 wickets in a full series, there is something wrong. Ravichandran Ashwin has neither picked up wickets nor kept the runs down. Ashwin seems to be lost for ideas, and a break wouldn’t do him much harm. Amit Mishra is a cunning leggie who possesses loads of variations, and against the Kiwis, he could have been tried.
With the Asia Cup coming up next month, the build up to the World Cup 2015 will well and truly begin. Dhoni needs to pick his bunch of 16 to 17 players and give them extended runs in the side. Taking into consideration the conditions and the opponents, the likes of Binny and Mishra must be in the scheme of things. West Indies and South Africa traditionally don’t play leg-spin well, and conditions in Australia and New Zealand will demand the presence of a seam bowling all-rounder. The Asia Cup will be an important tournament for Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma to show that their form in the home season was not an aberration, and that they are the leaders of the pack. Otherwise, the likes of Gambhir might well come back into the fray.
The Indian batting revolves around Dhoni and Kohli. That demands that Dhoni bat higher than number 6. Number 5 would be the ideal slot for Dhoni, given that he knows to control the innings in the middle overs, as well as the fact that it would give him time to get set for the final assault. Also, Dhoni moving up to number 5 would mean Suresh Raina would get the number 6 slot, where he has done well for India in ODIs. Raina as a finisher has admittedly been a better ODI batsman than at any other position up the order.
The fast bowling, however, is a huge cause for concern. There doesn’t seem to be a huge pool for the selectors to choose from, and the ones that are there aren’t exactly world beaters. All India can do is hope that Bhuvneshwar can recover his form from 2013, and Shami can live up to the promise that he has shown. One baffling exclusion has been that of Umesh Yadav. Yadav had a decent Champions trophy after which he was sidelined from the ODI side. Yadav bowls at a fairly decent clip and manages to keep the batsmen on their toes always.
The tours to England, and particularly, Australia later this year will be a good yardstick to measure the level of performance of the Indians, and it would also help these players to get used to the conditions that they will most likely face at the World up next year. And they better get used to them, because as of now, the chances of a repeat of 2011 heroics look grim for Team India.