Virat Kohli-led India gear up for bigger battles after 5-0 sweep over Sri Lanka
Virat Kohli’s Indian team ticked almost every box in their 5-0 series sweep over Sri Lanka. India’s pledge to keep trying new players to make the side more versatile will face a tougher test in the home series against Australia, starting September 17.Updated: Sep 04, 2017 20:21 IST
India completed an expected One-day series sweep in Sri Lanka on Sunday, but their aim to become an “unpredictable” force will be tested heading into the 2019 World Cup.
Virat Kohli’s side ticked almost every box. Top order solidity --- openers Shikhar Dhawan (1) and Rohit Sharma (2) and the skipper (2) hit centuries --- was evident and the bowlers got their priorities right by taking wickets.
A Sri Lankan team incapable of notching 250 even once was ideal for India to kick off their experiments. However, the failure of the middle-order plan for KL Rahul showed pushing even top players to reinvent may be easier said than done.
India’s pledge to keep pushing to make the side more versatile will also face a tougher test in the home series against Australia starting on September 17. KL Rahul, perhaps the No 1 Test opener, fell cheaply to spinner Akila Dananjaya in all three games as a middle-order batsman.
In fact, he was so uncomfortable facing spin straightaway that stand-in skipper Lasith Malinga brought on Dananjaya the moment Rahul came into bat in the fourth ODI. And he fell for seven, chipping a catch to mid-on.
Similarly, facing Mitchell Starc or Mohammad Amir in more seam-friendly conditions could be a big challenge for the top order. Amir did cause damage in the ICC Champions Trophy final. Thus finding the right man for specific slots will be as vital as getting a player to ease into an unfamiliar position.
Virat Kohli though acknowledged the challenge going forward. “We spoke about experimenting with a few guys going up and down the order. We have to try a few things,” he said after the series. “Once we start playing like this and get more confident with the roles we’re given, we can be more unpredictable. And with the talent we have in the side if we can be unpredictable as well, it becomes a lethal combination.”
While India’s batting is in full force in Sri Lanka, the bowling depth stood out. Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were never missed. Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar with wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal and left-arm spinner Axar Patel were solid.
Bumrah claimed 15 wickets, while Axar made it hard for the batsmen and took six wickets in four games at an average of 25.8. “These guys were brilliant, all three of them,” Virat Kohli said of the spinners. “Axar, being a conventional spinner as well, varied his pace; it was outstanding. He didn’t let the batsmen get on top of him.
“It’s the height that really helps him (Axar) get extra bounce and the extra pace he can generate. He’s got a very strong shoulder and people find it difficult to sweep him. “Kuldeep and Chahal being wrist spinners will always keep you in the game.”
“It’s going to be a challenge among all the bowlers and spinners that are going to be part of the bigger group to make it to the 2019 World Cup.”
Virat Kohli, however, wants to shortlist the names early.
“The best thing is transparency. We address it and tell them this is a bunch of 20-25 people who will make the probables for the World Cup and everyone has an equal opportunity to be tested at different stages. Till the World Cup we have what 42 matches, 37 now if I am not wrong. So, yeah, we’ll have to keep trying different players and the best combinations for us.
“It’s about the larger picture, not about who is sitting out and who is playing.”