Focus on batting as India aim to win series against Australia

By, Kolkata
Mar 21, 2023 09:05 PM IST

Victory in Chennai could be just the high India need before IPL and World Test Championship final break

Bounce at Mumbai, seam at Visakhapatnam, turn at Chennai. Australia’s last pit stop on an eventful tour of India is expected to be a surprise in offering no surprises. Rarely do fast bowlers have happy memories of white-ball cricket in India. But in back-to-back matches now, batters have been made to swallow their pride by the new ball, particularly in the first innings. Mitchell Starc, as rightly pointed out by Sean Abbott, put on a ‘clinic’ in the Powerplay on Sunday. Before that, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj did the tango on Australia. This time, however, spinners are expected to get their turn and the ball could stop on batters. In short, a typical Indian pitch may await both teams.

Indian captain Rohit Sharma during a practice session ahead of the 3rd ODI cricket match between India and Australia(PTI)
Indian captain Rohit Sharma during a practice session ahead of the 3rd ODI cricket match between India and Australia(PTI)

It’s against this backdrop that India and Australia, with a fair amount of batting depth on paper, aim to win the decider of the three-match series on Wednesday. India’s batting has attracted a fair bit of scorn, especially the top order. And for good reason too.

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Two matches in a row, the top four has scored just 39 and 48. While KL Rahul came good in the chase at Wankhede, India managed to bat just 26 overs in the second ODI and succumbed to their biggest defeat in ODI history while batting first. These are troubling numbers against quality bowling but India captain Rohit Sharma refused to push the panic button after Sunday’s defeat. "You know, the last six ODIs, if I remember a lot of the top order (batsmen) got big runs,” he said. “When we really need to, we will definitely look into it.”

One defeat should not prompt alarm bells over the batting composition but there does exist a valid concern over how India’s right-handers tackle left-arm fast bowling, be it Shaheen Afridi, Trent Boult or Mitchell Starc. Sharma, again, refused to generalise.

“Right-armers have troubled us as well, nobody talks about it,” he said. “We don't look too much into the left-arm or the right-arm – wickets are wickets. If you lose wickets, it is a concern. We will look into all sorts of things: how we are getting out, what we need to do, how we can come up with better plans, better methods against the seamers.”

While a technical shortfall playing left-arm pace is quite apparent, from the larger perspective, India also look out of tune with the 50-over format. In the last 12 months, India have regularly played ODIs only in two clusters–in England, West Indies and Zimbabwe in July-August and after the T20 World Cup in November. This is their last ODI before the tour of the West Indies in August and probably another short home series before the World Cup. That’s still too little time to calm the batting nerves, if any.

Chennai, that way, is the last and best opportunity for India to conduct a proper World Cup dress rehearsal against a top team. For starters, India must find a better way to handle Starc. If batting first, facing all 300 balls must be the next target. Because every time India have accomplished that since January, 2022, they have inevitably finished with scores ranging from 237/9 to 409/8. And in nine out of those 11 times India batted first, they won.

If the Chepauk pitch promises turn, Australia could be tempted to field Ashton Agar alongside Adam Zampa with Glen Maxwell as the third spinner.

“We are always presuming that the wickets will spin in India,” India head coach Rahul Dravid said at a press conference in Chennai on Tuesday. “We just actually presume. I don't think the last two spun at all. We never know what we are going to get in the World Cup. In the league phase, nine cities, it is in October, the wickets won't be as tired as they probably are in the IPL and at the back end of our summer. You just have to get all your bases covered.”

There are individual equations to address as well. Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill and Virat Kohli as the top three are a given. But will India persist with Suryakumar Yadav at No 4? Two golden ducks, both plumb leg-before dismissals to Starc’s inswingers, that too within the first five overs are bound to trigger some commotion in a batting line-up already looking for stability from the top order.

On paper, KL Rahul is technically better equipped to deal with new-ball bowling so maybe it’s prudent to keep Yadav for the middle-overs assault. But that plan can only fall in place once India’s top-order fires. Chennai presents the best opportunity to see to it. If India could do nothing about the pitch and overcast conditions in Visakhapatnam, Chennai brings with it a subcontinental familiarity they are expected to revel in. If they win, this could be just the high the Indian players need before they go on a near three-month hiatus from one-day cricket.

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    Somshuvra Laha is a sports journalist with over 11 years' experience writing on cricket, football and other sports. He has covered the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, the 2016 ICC World Twenty20, cricket tours of South Africa, West Indies and Bangladesh and the 2010 Commonwealth Games for Hindustan Times.

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