Ishant Sharma is, frankly, making a joke of himself in front of the Australian crowds. He’s been so lethargic and listless out there that every time he fields a ball, it draws a loud sarcastic cheer from the stands. They no longer believe he can catch or stop that darting orb.
Cricket enthusiasts at the Gabba lost confidence in his catching ability when he dropped the simplest of catches -- the glaring one which comes to mind is the sitter offered by Shaun Marsh at long off. To the amusement of the Melbourne Cricket Ground patrons, he again let the ball slip through his legs when fielding at long on.
Ishant will take comfort from the fact that he is not the only one who is feeling lost out there on the big grounds Down Under. Quite a few of his teammates have been listless too. It was quite shocking that with the series on the line, in that must-win game at the MCG, India came up with one of their poorest fielding displays. Gurkeerat Singh Mann will remember his debut for the dropped sitter at mid-on when Aaron Finch hit straight at him. Shikhar Dhawan fumbled a couple of times and Rohit Sharma looked silly diving over a drive at covers to concede four.
Barinder Sran too got a reality check in international cricket. He was India’s most inspired fielder at the Gabba. But at the MCG, despite his big strides, the 6’ 3” bowler was also struggling to cover the huge ground.
It’s strange that in times of a huge contingent of specialized support staff, it’s fielding that has let India down miserably in the one-day series.
It’s in fielding that the difference in attitude and approach of the two teams becomes clear. Like India, the Australians have equally struggled while bowling, but the intensity of their men in the field has been breathtaking. They have been attacking the ball like a pack of hungry wolves, ensuring every run is difficult to earn.
India only came really alive in the series towards the fag end of the game at the MCG but it was too late to salvage the situation. That bit also gave a glimpse of what could have been achieved with the right effort from Game One.
The problem for India again was the inability of the bowlers and fielders to put any sort of pressure on the Australian batsmen. In all three ODIs, from the start, the home team would be effortlessly sailing at five to six runs an over. Smith & Co. never had to take any risk to get that required boundary in order to keep pace with the required run-rate. They had to simply pounce on the loose ball that was being served with frustrating regularity.
The 0-3 scoreline would be most heartbreaking for the likes of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane. In each game, the top order had set the stage with excellent batting. It’s rare that the Indian team can boast of starting a series with three centuries in three games. Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli provided that, and with Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan chipping in with useful contributions, the visitors were provided the platform to build on.
However, little else clicked for India. The pace bowlers couldn’t hunt in a pack, the spinners were inconsistent and the lower order batting couldn’t come up with the big hits to give the necessary impetus to the innings in the end.
So glaring was the inconsistency in bowling that it was the spell of debutants Gurkeerat Mann and Rishi Dhawan at the MCG which helped India settle down in some sort of rhythm. Though clearly not of international class, they couldn’t be faulted for focus. Dhawan bowled six overs for 33 runs and Mann five for 27 at a stage when nothing was going right for India. It started a period of play where for the first time India exerted proper pressure on the Australian batsmen.
Rookie Barinder Sran was the lone bright spot in the pace department showing a wise head to go with his sharp pace. The seasoned bowlers took too much time to settle down. Umesh Yadav was wasteful in the second game with his wayward stuff and Ishant looked really rusty.
If there was any planning behind how the bowling unit looked to attack key Australian wickets, it was not visible. India has seen so much of Steve Smith, he’s been on the wicket all the time against them in their recent matches, yet there seemed a lack of ideas to stop him. George Bailey, with whom Smith formed a solid partnership, is trying a new closed stance. Experts like Ian Chappell were saying on air, how it will hinder his leg side play, but Yadav & Co were not able to capitalise or even explore that possible chink enough.
Poor in slog overs
On absolute flat tracks, and given Australia’s heavy batting artillery, the decisive phase of the games was always going to be the last 10 overs of India’s batting. With the visitors limited bowling resources, their best option was to out-bat the opposition.
As it turned out, the majority of India’s big hitters flopped. The script didn’t change in the slog overs in all three games. At the Gabba, at the start of the last 10 overs, India were 233 for two -- a perfect platform for the hitters. The final assault never came. They managed just 75 runs for six wickets in the period. The last five overs made abysmal reading at 6, 7, 12, 9 and four. At the MCG, once Virat Kohli and skipper MS Dhoni got out, the fizz went too. Only three runs were scored in the 50th over.
At the end of it, the Indian players had a dazed look on their faces. It’s not for the first time they had lost a game in Australia, but nothing rattles you like losing from a strong position. The shock was about having nothing to show for in terms of results even after putting up their best show ever in batting in these parts.
It was painful to watch captain Dhoni go through the motions, while batting and marshalling his troops. There were flashes of his old dashing self at the MCG, but by then too much ground had been lost to save the series.
Since the World Cup, it’s been a torrid run in the one-day series for captain M S Dhoni and the team. Having lost three big series, the big question is whether he has outlived his shelf life as captain in one-day cricket .