Flush from their brilliant effort in the Champions Trophy, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan seemed to have provided India a settled opening combination in the build-up to the World Cup. Both were equally aggressive and looked capable of exploiting early field restrictions and playing horizontal shots well.
In the high-scoring home ODI series against Australia, the duo’s partnerships of 176 (Jaipur), 178 (Nagpur) and 112 (Bangalore) further underlined their ability and confidence. However, it has been downhill since then. In their next seven matches, their highest partnership has been 29.
Rohit’s expression as he faced the extra bounce of Kyle Mills and Mitchell McClenaghan inspired little confidence. He eventually nicked a wide delivery. Shikhar’s desperate attempt to take on Tim Southee wasn’t too different. The problem for skipper MS Dhoni is there is just one reserve batsman, Ambati Rayudu, here. The bigger predicament is whether the shake up will affect the pair and the impact it can have on the side.
It was in 2002 that India touched a real low in New Zealand. Their batsmen floundered on pitches that afforded appreciable seam movement. The tracks in Napier and Hamilton were good pitches. And Dhoni had led India to Test and ODI series victories here in 2009. But now he will have to take the call on shuffling pack if the visitors are to bounce back from 0-2 down in the five-match series.
Binny could be in
The one man who might make a difference is Stuart Binny. His medium-pace may be useful at Eden Park as the drop-in pitch is expected to offer good pace. And his hard-hitting will offer an insurance with a long tail to contend with now. With R Ashwin struggling, it is time to either call up leggie Amit Mishra, dropping the off-spinner or Jadeja.
The only time India edged ahead in this series was when Mohd Shami struck twice early on in Napier. But his efforts and that of Bhuvneshwar Kumar have gone unrewarded due to the flop-show by Ishant and Ashwin. Dhoni has blamed the openers, and the lack of bowling discipline, but is not willing to criticise the off-spinner.
"There is still scope for improvement, we cannot give easy boundaries, off something like a wide ball or something on the pads. Especially the first ball of the over or the sixth ball, if you don’t concede boundaries in those two, it helps. Either, we are not starting well or we are not finishing that particular over well," Dhoni said in Hamilton.
Despite the losses in South Africa, New Zealand was expected to provide India the build-up in a season of overseas challenges.
Having received a jolt, India’s response now will be crucial. Otherwise, a season when the youngsters were supposed to come into their own will end with India facing an uncertain future.