In a cricket-crazy country like India, only success matters --- a classic example being the euphoria generated by the Indian team’s unbeaten run in Test cricket, which completely drowned the not-so-impressive ODI run of former world champions.
While Virat & Co vanquished all opponents that came visiting, MS Dhoni’s men in blue had average returns in 2016. In the 13 ODIs played, India won seven and lost six, including three victories against Zimbabwe. India lost 1-4 in Australia and huffed and puffed on their way to securing a 3-2 win against New Zealand at home.
As the BCCI think-tank, including coaches and selectors, takes stock of the last 12 months, the contrast in fortunes will be difficult to miss. They will have concerns in all three departments in the shorter format. In Australia, the fielding and bowling let the team down. Against New Zealand, surprisingly, the batting didn’t click as a unit.
These shortcomings, however, didn’t get highlighted as the flavour of last season was Test and Twenty20 cricket. But, in the coming season, the focus will be back on the 50-over format. India start their campaign with a three-match ODI series against England before defending their Champions Trophy title in June, in England.
Given how Ravichandran Ashwin has ended his year, being named the ‘ICC Cricketer of the Year’, few will believe it now that the off-spinner was actually not a part of the playing XI in the last three ODI matches against Australia.
It wasn’t on account of the riches in the cupboard but the fact that India was finding it difficult to restrict Australia to sub-300 scores. Except for Ravindra Jadeja, all the bowlers Dhoni tried had an economy rate of six plus. India’s lone victory in the five games was achieved when Jasprit Bumrah was picked for the last tie and he snared two for 40 in 10 overs.
LOST IN THE DEEP
However, the sore point of the debacle was India’s fielding and catching. Despite an army of specialised support staff, fielding let India down. To the amusement of the Australian crowd, Dhoni’s men looked lost in the deep on the big grounds Down Under. In fact, Ishant Sharma became the butt of ridicule after he dropped the simplest of catches from Shaun Marsh. After he let the ball slip between his legs, he was greeted with sarcastic cheers by the crowd every time the ball travelled in his direction. Gurkeerat Singh Mann too will remember his debut for a dropped sitter.
If the batsmen did well Down Under, it was the other way round against New Zealand. Expected to dominate the Kiwi attack in home conditions, Rohit Sharma & Co unexpectedly went missing and Virat Kohli was left to shoulder the batting responsibilities. Kohli notched up 358 runs, including a century and two fifties, even as Sharma averaged 24.60 and Ajinkya Rahane 28.60.
With Dhoni opting to bat higher up the order, the lack of options for the finisher’s role at No 6 and 7 were exposed. Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav averaged 19, 22.50 and 45 respectively.
Even though there are six months to go for the big event in England, the challenge for India will be to strike form in just three ODIs they play before the Champions Trophy. Given that Kumble and Dhoni need to work on quite a few areas, it’s time they start taking stock of the situation in earnest.