How much difference can half a day make. Three Tests and an ODI had gone by and with New Zealand on a downward spiral even the most ardent of Indian fans were wishing for them to up their game and make the ODIs a little more interesting.
And then Delhi happened. In fact, that half of the match where the hosts got entangled while chasing 243 has seen the series come alive. All of a sudden India’s strength, their batting, seems their weak link with questions being asked even about the once talismanic finisher, Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
The limited-overs skipper was pretty much the focus of attention at the PCA Stadium. Aware that the batting riddle needs to be resolved, the skipper was seen talking to the batsmen at the nets before getting an extended session by batting twice.
Struggle to finish
While he was circumspect to begin with, Dhoni came into his own in the second stint, hitting a few lusty blows. He would need to remind himself of his ability to play the big shots and how he used to intimidate bowlers around the world. A pale shadow of that old version, Dhoni isn’t closing out tight finishes.
Leaving aside Virat Kohli, most batsmen know they can do better than what they have delivered so far. Rohit Sharma didn’t seem affected after an injury scare in Delhi, looking at his fluent best in the nets.
India need a big one from him at the top. And Ajinkya Rahane, India’s most impressive Test batsman, also needs to use the pace of the new ball and make the shorter format his own. With Suresh Raina still unwell and ruled out of the third ODI, the duo of Manish Pandey and Kedar Jadhav can get another opportunity to convert those 20s and 30s into big, match-winning efforts.
Bowlers make a point
The bowlers have been on the spot, if not spectacular, so far. If it was with the new ball in Dharamsala, it was in the death overs in Delhi that the relatively less experienced bowlers carried out their job well. With six wickets in the two games so far, leg spinner Amit Mishra, who in Dharamsala became the fastest Indian spinner to take 50 ODI wickets (32 games), incidentally spread over 13 years.
“The bowlers have done a good job. We are getting wickets and building pressure when the team requires them. There are times when our strategies don’t work, but our second line of defence is working well. We do need to improve a bit as there’s always room for improvement. We’ll try to reinvent our strategies so that we do better in the next game and win it.”
The typical Mohali pitch should be good for stroke-making. But with mild winter setting in, the dip in evening temperature will ensure dew. Though the PCA curator Daljit Singh felt an early start might negate it somewhat, the captains will be wary of that.
The Kiwis suddenly had a spring in their step at practice ahead of the game. Skipper Kane Williamson showed them the way in Delhi but the visitors are aware of their fragile top order. With Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor so woefully out of form, they should know 240s won’t win them another game.