Reality check bites touring Indian team
This India Australia series is slowly losing its charm. If the unavailability of Rohit Sharma & Virat Kohli for the major chunk of the series--and Ishant now ruled out for the entire tour--wasn’t enough of a dampener, India have gone and lost the one-day series.
They came back pretty well in the last game after losing the first two by big margins, but obviously Indian cricket is at a stage where fans need their team to do more than win a dead rubber.
In the first two matches, Indian struggled to get wickets. The ball was just not swinging or seaming in Sydney, not even for Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami. This revived in me memories from a few years back when Indian bowlers could not make inroads even in the middle stages and the opposition kept on putting up massive, unchaseable scores.
Then, post the Champions Trophy in England, India changed their tactics and brought in bowlers who could strike even in the middle of the innings. This gave us excellent results till a loss to England in the 2019 World Cup league match, after which the core of the team, especially with regards to spin, was dismantled.
India has been on a downward trajectory in ODIs ever since.
I believe that the current Indian ODI batting is better than the one we had for the last World Cup, but the bowlers need to get wickets. That’s all.
Having said that, it is only a matter of time before Bumrah and Shami start getting wickets with the new ball, but India is missing Bhuvneshwar Kumar a lot; he was one of the main wicket takers amongst the trio in the first 10 overs.
Remember him getting Aaron Finch out very early and regularly in the last one-day series in Australia? Until Kumar’s return to fitness, I would pick Deepak Chahar; we’ve seen enough of Chahar to know that he is a seasoned swing bowler with excellent match awareness. Shardul Thakur would be the fourth seamer in reserve.
In the last ODI, we were again reminded of how underrated Shardul Thakur is as a pure seamer for limited overs. He was one of the top bowlers in the IPL, not just because of the wickets he took, but for the impact he had on matches. That match-winning effect was there for everyone to see in the last ODI. His success also proved that we must rein in our excitement to play bowlers just for their pace; like in the IPL, Shardul overshadowed Navdeep Saini completely in this ODI series too.
I was really happy to see Thangarasu Natarajan play a 50 overs match. Ignoring the fact that it was an over-reaction to his splendid IPL performance, he didn’t let anyone down; he did the best with what he had, though at the moment, he looks more suited to T20.
The batting now: the selection protocols of the current team management baffle everyone and I am no exception. After a fantastic IPL, Mayank Agarwal was given an opportunity to open the innings and carve out an ODI career. He got just two games and was dropped. Surely, that does nothing for his self-confidence.
This is not the way to groom players. India could have easily rested Shikhar Dhawan and played Agarwal for the last game. Shubman Gill, who did replace Agarwal, was just a treat to watch in that last ODI, especially the way he left two balls outside the off stump from Josh Hazlewood. Beautiful late outswingers that Indian batsmen will have to deal with constantly in the Test series. That natural reaction of leaving balls makes me very optimistic about him, if and when he gets his chance against the Aussie bowlers. This instinct is an absolute necessity in Test cricket in foreign conditions; not having it has proved to be the undoing of many Indian batters. Virat Kohli set an example for his fellow batsmen in the England series in this regard, by leaving more balls than actually playing, and ended up getting almost 600 runs. Any batsman who can leave the ball outside the off stump naturally is like a precious diamond when it comes to Tests.
Shreyas Iyer got a reality check of what international cricket is all about--pace and bounce--he must find a way to be comfortable dealing with the bouncer whether he is defending or attacking, or his international career could be under threat.
The big revelation of the ODI series though was Hardik Pandya, of whom we had no real evidence that he could play as a pure batsman in ODIs.
He came out with flying colours, not just the scores, but how he got them. He had to almost anchor the innings twice in three matches and he played the dual role of anchor and finisher to perfection. The big change I noticed was that Pandya was hitting along the ground, like Kohli, and was trying to keep even the bouncer down while pulling. And when the time was right or the situation demanded it, he showed his big-hitting T20 game. If he shows this kind of form over a period of time, India have been blessed with an incredible no 5/6 batsman.
One final thing: the Indian team management must also get their pure batsmen to start bowling in the nets so that they can put in 3-4 overs if one of the main bowlers is having an off day.