Despite a 1-4 mauling in the Caribbean, India were deemed the favourite in the contest against the West Indies simply because they had Sachin Tendulkar, of all the people, back in the saddle.
Despite some initial tentativeness including a missed catch, Tendulkar did not disappoint and cracked a masterly unbeaten 141. Unfortunately India never got to test the West Indies' brittle middle order, which had established some sort of 'Collapso' record against Australia in the tri-series opener.
In Thursday's match, India went with five bowlers, including four pacers, but the West Indies' assault made it clear how wrong it was.
Gayle, Sarwan and Lara once again showed that India must never play five bowlers, especially on overseas pitches. The presence of an additional bowler generally does not make much of a difference towards ''softening'' of the opposition, whereas India tend to end up with one batsman less.
Example of Caribbean fiasco
The recent series against the West Indies should have been a clue enough where the visitors lost three out of four matches, when opted for a five-bowler attack.
India in Caribbean with five specialist bowlers
|Port of Spain||2006||Lost-6 wkts|
Against even more potent bowling attack of Australia, buoyed by the arrival of Glenn McGrath, five specialist bowlers will surely compromise with the solidity of the batting line-up, which might prove to be suicidal in the end.
Rather, using part-timers more effectively could be the key to success. Again, in the last series, our part-time bowlers in Sehwag and Yuvraj had better strike-rate than the spinners and better economy than the pacers. Why not play Dinesh Mongia in place of one of the pacers if Yuvraj is still not fit.
Using part-time slow bowlers more often, especially against Australia, could bring some unpredictable element to the benefit of India.
India in the series in West Indies
Another critical issue, which arises from the first two matches, is the importance of the initial thrust.
Early assault is going to be the key factor towards a total around 300, potentially a match-winning one.
Rather than opening with Dravid, who has been a solid performer at all positions and can be flexibly employed, India should open with Sehwag and Tendulkar
Dravid at various positions
|#6, 7 & 8||15||312||44.57|
Uneven bounce, as seen in the first two matches, becomes more of a problem in the middle overs. In the beginning, ball comes up nicely and that helps a player of Sehwag's all-offensive approach much more than later in the innings.
If we compare the first 20 overs of the four innings played here over the last three days, maximum a team has lost is two wickets while always scoring more than 100 runs.
Progress at twenty overs in DLF tri-series
|Match 1||Match 2|
The only way India can match the run-rate achieved by the West Indies in both the matches is by employing its free-flowing batsmen little earlier. It is all the more important in a series, where rain is threatening every moment.
If we see the top five opening partnerships for India since World Cup 2003 with five innings as qualification for a pair, Sehwag has always been an important part.
Top 5 opening partnerships for India
(Since World Cup 2003)
|Player1||Player 2||Innings||Runs||Partnership Avg|
With his ability to hit through the air, Sehwag should better be employed as opener. He will fail occasionally, but when he succeeds, he will be a sure match winner.
So the key for India against Australia should be to have four bowlers, employ part-timers effectively, and open with Sehwag.