WINDIES TOUR OF INDIA, 2018
Even with his batting abilities, Bhuvneshwar maybe batting one spot too high at No.7 © AFP
A series that was expected to be a no-contest has suddenly turned on its head, and finds itself levelled. One way or the other, this one will only be decided after the final game, at Thiruvananthapuram.
India, as they stand with their recent ODI credentials, might enter the World Cup as one of the favourites alongside England. For now, barring a couple of places in the XI – No 4 and No 6 – all the other spots would appear sealed.
The only constant after three different results in the series has been a Virat Kohli hundred. Chasing a target of 284 in Pune, Kohli cracked his 38th ODI ton but India still found themselves short of Windies’ total by 43 runs. The hosts had put up possibly their best ‘available’ side on the field on Saturday but were left to rue the balance of the team composition.
To believe that India are over-reliant on Kohli will be naive. But the defeat, with only 15 more games left before next year’s marquee event, has come as a much-needed alarm. And that the challenge against a Windies side missing several first-choice picks has become so stiff would leave them with needing to answer questions that were best avoided in victories.
The loss in Pune was reflective of the poor secondary skill-sets of the squad than anything else.
We’re not talking about all-rounders – which is a highly specialised skill-set. It’s only about players who come into the side for their primary skill, but are handy with their secondary skill-set.
Bowlers who can’t bat
Barring Bhuvneshwar Kumar, India don’t have a bowler who can offer anything with the bat. Like in the case of the side in the third ODI, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Khaleel Ahmed and Jasprit Bumrah followed Bhuvneshwar in the batting order and the five of them together managed all of 31 runs. If they are unable to hone their skills with the bat even a little, India will continue to find themselves in a mess every time they are six wickets down.
Incidentally, it was the inclusion of Bhuvneshwar that allowed India to play their best bowling attack. In the first two games, to maintain balance, India had to bring in Ravindra Jadeja and compromise on their ‘best available bowling attack’
At a time when teams like England, South Africa, New Zealand and South Africa have players who can bat reasonably well till No. 10 and 11, India find themselves ending their defiance with their No. 7.
Kohli admitted there was a need to quickly address this issue of balance. “When someone like Hardik is not playing, who gives you both bowling and batting option, it is difficult to get the balance. Kedar comes into the side in the next game, that’ll give us the balance and depth in the batting. You will always drift to one side when you don’t have the balance,” he said,
Pandya’s inclusion will push Bhuvneshwar a spot below, but to have three traditional tail enders isn’t a luxury that power-punching limited-overs cricket is offering these days.
The pressure of a feeble lower-order not only breaks the flow of the frontline batsman, who has to be cautious and shepherd while batting alongside them, but also on the middle order, that has to be wary of attacking.
The matter is of some serious concern especially because beyond Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli, the rest of the batting line-up is yet to display any kind of consistency. Ambati Rayudu is still to cement his spot, MS Dhoni is out of form and no one is making a strong case for No 6. While Jadhav hasn’t done too much wrong with the bat, the fact that his demand in the side comes for his secondary asset more than his first, is worrying.
The issue doesn’t end with the national team. There aren’t too many bowlers in the ‘A’ side either who can bat either. Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel are two of the closest options but they are unlikely to find a place in the XI, unless there are injuries.
Batsmen that don’t bowl
A decade ago, India had the simultaneous services of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh. Not only were they handy part-timers, all with different styles of bowling, but were also decent enough to bowl 10 overs on good days.
At the moment, Kedar Jadhav and Suresh Raina are India’s best options among batsmen who can bowl. But there are two issues with them. Primary of them is that, they are a liability with one of their skills. Jadhav on the field and Raina (unfortunately) with the bat. Neither of them will be able to cut through in the side on the basis of their primary ability.
None of the batsmen in the current squad – in the XI or in the reserves – can bowl to fill in overs. The issue runs deep, far beyond the upcoming World Cup. With both Jadhav and Raina in the 30s, the gen-next also doesn’t have batters bowling too often – Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal, Shreyas Iyer, Karun Nair, Ankeet Bawne. And for as much as was made of Hanuma Vihari’s inclusion in his maiden Test as an all-rounder, he is still less than a part-timer.
While this deficiency hasn’t come to impact them thus far, they would be better off protecting themselves against it. If one of the five frontline bowlers has a bad day or one of them gets injured, they don’t have an option to fill up.
The advantage of having an additional bowling option in this side never received greater validation than in a recent Asia Cup clash against Pakistan. There Jadhav bowled nine overs and took 3 wickets after Hardik Pandya injured himself in his fifth over.
In the early overs of the game, India found themselves fielding Chahal, Kuldeep, Rishabh Pant, Rayudu and Kohli in the inner ring to save singles. Bar the last two, it was a less than ordinary set of personnel, who were struggling to cut through the arcs swiftly. It was to their luck that Windies didn’t try taking advantage of the situation. Against better sides, India will be tested, put under pressure and probably induce the ire of their captain.
Kohli has gone on record raving about India’s improved fielding standards, starting with what was on offer during their 2013 Champions Trophy winning campaign. Even in the previous World Cup, they had extremely high fielding standards in the form of Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Suresh Raina to give company to Kohli and Rohit Sharma in manning the inner ring, while Mohit Sharma and Umesh Yadav served as fine boundary riders.
In the current side, all the player have gotten opportunities on the basis of their main skill. But they will need to add to their arsenal in order to avoid such failures in the future, and match with their counterparts.
Currently, with the likes of Bumrah, Chahal and Kuldeep making it to the side on the basis of their strong bowling credibility, their failings in the other department has been overlooked. Pant, for as long as Dhoni is playing, will continue to be a liability as a pure fielder (and for no real fault of his) unless there is a dramatic improvement.
India have already failed to win two of their last three games against what is a near ‘A’ team of the Windies. Kohli would be aware that against tougher oppositions, these drawbacks would be cashed in and stretched.