India have played eight one-day games in the last couple of months in South Africa and New Zealand and have yet to win one. These losses are worrisome since they come just a year before India defend their 'world champions’ status next year in Australia and New Zealand.
The defeats in South Africa were on pitches similar to what they will encounter in Australia.
The fact remains that for the world champions to keep losing overseas is not great for the morale and self-belief. Yes, there will be a one-day series in Australia just before the World Cup, so maybe that is where the real preparedness will be seen. And in any case, one-day games are pretty much about form on the day so maybe there is no need to press the panic button as yet.
What needs to be done, though, is for the Indian batsmen to really think hard about how they are going to deal with the short ball, and make no mistake, in the World Cup they will be confronted with it more than the spinners.
It is no longer a case of being apprehensive or tentative about the short-pitched ball, for the physical fear aspect is not there anymore, what with the protective equipment that is available nowadays.
Unless they score off it, they will probably have at least 80 dot balls every innings if not more, for every bowler who runs in from a 10 metres or more is going to bang the ball mid-pitch twice in an over, and, on the harder pitches in Australia get the ball shoulder high, even if it is not at great pace.
The current set-up is clearly not able to help despite what some in the team will say. No player who has even a pea-sized brain will ever say anything against the current dispensation if he wants to stay in the team, so the truth will never be told.
Like we saw with Greg Chappell, it was only after he left that the stories started to come out, but while he was in charge just about everybody was singing his praises, including the media since they too didn’t want him to blacklist them.
It will be a good idea for the team to enlist the services of a specialist 'short pitched ball batsman’ like Rahul Dravid to not just show them how to do it but when to do it, for shot selection is as crucial as playing it.
It is still early days, of course, and Dravid may have other commitments, but come the next Indian season by which time the selectors will know the core batting group of the team, to have him enlisted will be the smartest thing that Indian cricket can do.
Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni are two of the best players of short bowling in the Indian team, but both have got out in the series against New Zealand and even they could do with a bit of guidance of when to play aggressive shots against the short ball and when to just leave it alone. The hook and the pull are instinctive shots, but great players know when to curb their natural instinct and when to follow it.
Disciplining talent is the secret to success, and when it is married to hard work, greatness follows.
Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Ambati Rayudu are can achieve a lot more if only they can combine talent and temperament. Even they will agree that the consistency that will make the opposition bowlers quake and have sleepless nights is eluding them. They will have to rectify that and look to get better.
Cheteshwar Pujara has both attributes in plenty, but since he is not a part of the one-day team, his name has not been mentioned. But if the others can come somewhere close to Pujara’s consistency they too will have done some justice to their talent.
And if they do that, Indian cricket and Indian cricket lovers will have a lot to look forward to.