As important as it is for India to wrap up the series against New Zealand, maybe they could also consider out-muscling opponents in the first half of the game when they get the opportunity to do so.
Statistics show home rubbers generally included one or two of those matches where India’s batsmen simply ran away with the game with big hundreds and scored well above 300. It happened against Sri Lanka in 2014 when India piled up 363 and 404 in the two matches batting first. But for eight consecutive matches at home --- against South Africa and now against New Zealand --- India haven’t been able to cross 300. So far, they have batted second against the Kiwis.
Tough to chase
Chasing 300-plus scores is more difficult than setting one, even on familiar pitches. In two matches of the 2015 series, South Africa had set India targets of 304 and 439. They couldn’t even ace the smaller target. In the same series, India had won the toss at Indore and Chennai, two of the most placid pitches in the country. They scored 247 and 299 respectively.
Skill wise, South Africa are far better than New Zealand but India have still not decided to test the Kiwis by batting first. The spin of the coin too has been kind to India as they are yet to lose a toss on this tour. Maybe the conditions in Dharamsala were a factor but not choosing to bat even at Mohali throws up the question whether India want to prepare their team for all possible scenarios. The toss, after all, will not favour them forever.
It is well known that MS Dhoni likes to chase every time if he has his way. That and factors like dew, which impedes spinners and helps the ball race across the turf, are some of the well-established reasons behind his preference. Not having regular opener Shikhar Dhawan to partner Rohit Sharma could also be one of the reasons for not opting to bat. It takes time to build a rapport and maybe Ajinkya Rahane is being given the opportunity by Dhoni. Rohit’s rough patch, however, has only compounded problems.
There is a simple solution to this problem --- send Rohit to bat with no pressure of a chase. His top three scores --- 264, 209 and 171 --- came when India batted first. Maybe it’s also time to check out how India fare if Kohli and Dhoni bat at the top without thinking about the required run rate. And if there is one place right now where India would want to do all of that it would be here, in Ranchi.
According to Kiwi opener Tom Latham, the pitch is bare with little grass. Such pitches are best for batting in the afternoon. “Hopefully, there will be a lot of runs coming,” he said.
In this series, India’s two victories have come chasing very contrasting scores. If they win the toss, maybe they could try out their batting strength without worrying about chasing. This way, Dhoni could also check how his bowlers respond while defending a score for a change. That should give a better roundup of India’s mettle.