As Team India gears up for the first series in what is lined up as 15 months of International cricket away from the familiar sounds of home, there are obviously a few chinks in the armour that need to be addressed. Here is a look at 5 things that may derail team India’s progress in the ODIs in Protea Land
1. Bowling in the death overs:
This has been an issue with the Indian team since time immemorial. Somehow, no Indian pacer, even in the distant memory has been able to land his yorkers consistently though the course of even a single series, let alone, prolonged periods of time. No wonder then that no Indian bowler – in my memory at least – has been cast as a specialist death bowler.
Very often with India, the good work done in the first two thirds of the innings is undone by poor bowling in the last third where the advantage is let slip. Like with Ishant Sharma‘s recent 30-run over, bad death bowling can very often change the course of matches.
As Dhoni himself has been saying, it is not the number of runs that are conceded but the lack of yorkers and other variations delivered by the bowlers which is disappointing. In 14 of the last 15 ODIs, Team India have conceded more than 70 runs in the last 10 overs, the only exception being in Kochi, where the West Indies pressed the self-destruct button with spectacular efficiency.
2 of the most delightful batsmen to watch when on song, but unfortunately for India, the recent past has not been very kind to both these southpaws. First, Mitchell Johnson bullied both of them with his pace and then Sunil Narine deceived both of them with his artistry. Both of them struggled to come to terms with the sheer speed on the ball even on Indian pitches where they fell prey to Johnson on almost all occasions in that series.
This is a massive tour for both Raina and Yuvraj, as a failure here could see their places in the team in danger, with the likes of Ambati Rayudu, Ajinkya Rahane and Dinesh Karthik hot on their heels for a spot in the National side. But, the prospect of seeing both of them walk out to bat will have Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn licking their lips in anticipation.
3. Unsettled Bowling Attack:
With only Ravi Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ravindra Jadeja knowing that they can take their spots based on recent performance, it will be interesting to see whether whoever is picked out of Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma, Mohit Sharma and Umesh Yadav can perform with a clear head without being bullied by the pressure of having to keep their place in the side.
Very often, that pressure can weigh a cricketer down tremendously. While Shami had a sensational test debut series against the Windies, the ODI series that followed was a dampener to his spirits. For Umesh Yadav, he might well be perplexed as to why he was dropped from the ODI side for the two recent series after he had performed reasonably well in both the Champions Trophy and the Tri Series in the West Indies. Ishant will have that 30-run over in the back of his mind, and Mohit is carrying the pressure of his first big overseas tour.
4. Ravindra Jadeja, the batsman:
As a bowler, Ravindra Jadeja is an automatic pick in the present Indian ODI side. But as the genuine all-rounder in the side, batting at 7, it is imperative that Jadeja pulls his weight in with the bat. Post the Champions Trophy, Jadeja’s batting form has gone cold, and that could be a major source of worry for the think-tank.
Especially in South African conditions, where the top order might be prone to a collapse, Jadeja’s position at no.7 becomes all the more crucial. Recent performances in both Test and ODI cricket show better batting numbers for Ravi Ashwin than they do for Jadeja. For someone who can be dangerous once he gets going, Jadeja must ensure that he spends some time out in the middle before becoming too expansive with his strokeplay. That was the strategy which served him well in the Champions Trophy where he played a couple of crucial knocks in the latter part of the innings.
5. Transition from Indian to South African conditions
After what has been nearly 2 months of cricket on the flat, placed wickets at home, the time has come for India’s batsmen to work hard for their runs. Boundary hitting and batting, in general, will not be as easy as it has been against Australia and the West Indies. The Indians will have to be ready for the grind, and ensure that they grit it out in the middle, because Steyn and co. are not going to lay a bed of roses for the Indians.
Also, fielding is a crucial aspect where the atmospheric conditions of the Highveld (Johannesburg and Centurion) can pose a huge challenge with the altitude. Because of being around 6000 ft. above sea level, not only does the ball travel farther, but it also travels faster, making it essential that fielders adjust their body mechanisms right in order to pocket those catches that will come their way.
If India can ensure that they can allay these fears, then they could prosper in the series.