These are rare times indeed for Indian cricket that pace bowling is doing better than batting. India's assortment of seamers and swingers sent hell the way of Pakistan. Bhuvneshwar Kumar had a dream international debut, moved the ball dangerously in the air and was almost unplayable at the start of the innings. The 22-year-old from Uttar Pradesh continued his stump-wrecking ways through the series, turning from trivia to terroriser. Three seasons ago Kumar had entered quiz books as a memorable entry: the first bowler to dismiss Sachin Tendulkar for a duck in Indian domestic cricket. A rustling in-cutter that afternoon at Hyderabad's Uppal Stadium had induced an inside-edge from the master as Kumar, then a BA first year student, could scarce believe his luck.
His languid action and a pace that allows the ball to do its thing drew praise from Nasir Jamshed, Pakistan's top batsman in the series. Jamshed became Kumar's first international wicket - as nicely constructed a debut scalp as any you'd get to see. It was his maiden over in Indian colors and he kept moving it away from Jamshed, teasing him from a good length spot, keeping the pace at around 125. The last delivery was perceptibly slower and befuddled the left-hander completely as it swerved into the stumps. With Ishant Sharma making a decent comeback after injury and Bengal debutant Shami Ahmed sending down four maidens on debut at the Kotla, India's seam attack looked incisive in helpful conditions. Ashok Dinda sprayed loose deliveries with good ones, reducing his effectiveness, and the bowling would have had more of an impact had it received support from batting. With Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron still injured, however, India still miss a genuine quick consistently in the range of 140 kmph.
Fielding coach Trevor Penney seems to have borrowed Greg Chappell's 'everybody everywhere' batting methodology. And it works! India were like lightning in the field in the last ODI against Pakistan, saving several crucial boundaries in the first Powerplay. Penney had earlier defended Zaheer Khan's lapses in the field during the England Tests with “Zaheer has his own methods” and “He is a superstar of Indian cricket”. But with the ouster of the left-arm fast bowler and with Virender Sehwag's exclusion from the England ODIs, India seem to be reaping the benefits of young legs. Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina are exceptional and accurate wherever they are stationed, and the percentage of direct hits scored within the circle has to be at an all-time high. Blotches still remain. Gambhir is at times indifferent and R. Ashwin's efforts leave a lot to be desired. Watching the off-spinner launch into a dive is an unforgettable spectacle, for all the wrong reasons. Well, at least Ashwin can bat.
Tough to replace Sehwag
It may be seem like a step in the right direction, but Cheteshwar Pujara replacing Virender Sehwag as India's ODI opener may well be counterproductive. For one, the two are very different batsmen. For another, fellow opener Gambhir has been struggling to hit a 100 strike rate of late. Not once in the last 11 games has the left-hander crossed a run-a ball. It was under the canopy of Sehwag's thunderstorms that Gambhir orchestrated some fireworks of his own, but once Sehwag's form dipped, so did Gambhir's free flowing ways. Ajiknkya Rahane has sparkle through the off-side but is still waiting for a definitive confidence-boosting knock. Few can match the influence of an in-form Sehwag and Rahane will have his task cut out to make it count against England in the first Powerplay.
Pujara's class is expected to provide the much-needed solidity to India's wobbly middle order. The selectors could have considered dropping Gambhir too in ODIs. Ambati Rayudu or even misfortune's own son - Manoj Tiwary - may have come up for discussion. Rayudu has, in the eyes of the Board, atoned enough for the ICL escapade and his compact, fluid style deserves a break on the biggest stage. Tiwary, as the joke goes, is likely to carry drinks to field out of habit, even if selected to play. There are others too: Tamil Nadu's Abhinav Mukund and the raw Under-19 World Cup winning captain Unmukt Chand. Maybe it's time to throw in some of the young IPL names - aside from MS Dhoni's darling Ravindra Jadeja - in the ring and see how they fare.
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