Winning Bizness Sports Desk
India’s international cricket commitments have ended for this season with the conclusion of the India-Australia one-day international (ODI) series and all eyes are now focused on the Indian Premier League (IPL) scheduled to begin this month-end.
The IPL is the cricketing world’s greatest extravaganza barring perhaps the World Cup. Hence, there is no reason why all eyes should not be on the IPL. But this is a T20 tournament and this year there are no major international T20 tournaments.
It must be borne in mind that both the Asia Cup and the World Cup scheduled for later this year are of the 50-over format, and hence, while the IPL performances will be keenly watched by the selectors not only of India but also of other countries whose players are participating in the tournament, the performances here alone will not be the sole criteria for selection.
ODI performances will be the key criteria for selection and with respect to India, its players’ performances in the recently-concluded series against Australia left a lot to be desired. India needs to pull up its socks and remedy the deficiencies which were clearly visible during the series.
For starters, India’s batting was not up to scratch. The top-order has to come to the party—in recent times, it has been the middle-and-late-order batters who have bailed India out in both ODIs and test matches.
It is too early to know how the pitches in India where the 50-overs World Cup will be held in October will behave but going by track-record, most pitches should aid spin to some degree while a couple such as the ones in Chandigarh and Dharamshala could be pacer-friendly.
The bowling has held its own and with both the Asia Cup and the World Cup to be held in Asia, this is one area where India has exhibited strengths. Both India’s spinners and fast bowlers did well in the test and ODI series. The performance of the pacers, in particular Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj, was noteworthy.
Here a point that needs highlighting is that India was without its two key strike fast bowlers—Jasprit Bumrah and Prasidh Krishna. Both are currently injured and are unlikely to play in the World Cup.
This means that India’s fast bowling machine will not be at its strongest though it must be emphasised that it has acquitted itself very creditably till now. Mohammed Shami, Siraj, Umesh Yadav, Arshdeep Singh and Umran Malik (if selected) are good enough, even in Indian conditions, to trouble overseas batters.
It is too early to know how the pitches in India where the 50-overs World Cup will be held in October will behave but going by track-record, most pitches should aid spin to some degree while a couple such as the ones in Chandigarh and Dharamshala could be pacer-friendly. So from India’s point of view, it should be horses for courses.
Other teams too could follow this policy as Australia did in the just-concluded series, especially in the tests where it played three spinners, a rarity for the Kangaroos.
While the Indian spinners—Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja—spun the Australians out in the test series which India won 2-1, India lost the one-day series 1-2. India won the first one-day match in Mumbai but lost the last two to concede the series to Australia.
India is a strong favourite to win the 2023 Asia Cup as well as the World Cup but will have to take immediate remedial steps to iron out the wrinkles clearly visible in the series against Australia and to some extent in recent times as well.
India took the lead in the series by winning the first ODI in Mumbai but the very fact that Australia came from behind to take the series reveals the resilience and fighting spirit of the Australians. The defeat, however, reflects badly on the Indians who could not build on their lead in the series. India will have the advantage of playing on its home-ground in the World Cup but this alone by no means guarantees victory.
Australia rattled off the winning runs without the loss of a single wicket in the second ODI. No blame can be attached to the Indian bowlers—it was the batters who lost India the match.
The Indian batting will have to come to the party. The opening combination will have to be decided—who will open the innings with Rohit Sharma? Will it be Shubman Gill or K L Rahul or maybe Shikhar Dhawan? Who will come one down? Will the Indian team management continue with Suryakumar Yadav after his disastrous performance against the Australians? What about Shreyas Iyer who is presently injured and is likely to miss a large part of the IPL? Even after regaining full fitness, will he have sufficient match practice to play in the highly intense and competitive world cup matches, come October?
With Rishabh Pant unlikely for the World Cup, will India go with Rahul as its wicket-keeper or Ishan Kishan? Remember, both can open the innings and this factor will weigh heavily on the minds of the selectors when they sit down to deliberate on the team composition.
These are but a few questions before the Indian team management.
India’s batting in the just-concluded series left a lot to be desired. Though India won the first ODI, it was toughly fought for a large part of the match. Chasing a small 189 for victory, India lost five top-order wickets for just 83 runs in 20 overs, before Ravindra Jadeja who returned to the team after a long injury lay-off combined with K L Rahul to steer India to victory.
Here again, India’s top-order had failed to deliver; Rahul came lower down the order following his poor form in the test series with Ishan Kishan opening the inning along with Rohit Sharma. Rahul scored an unbeaten 75 while Jadeja came up with a fighting and mature 45 not out.
A point to be noted here is that India’s fast bowlers—Siraj and Shami—took three wickets each while Jadeja took two to out the Australians for just 188 runs. Hardik Pandya, an all-rounder who also bowls sharp medium pace and spinner Kuldeep Yadav took one wicket each. The fast bowlers took seven wickets between them and showed that they had it in them to trouble good batters even in Indian conditions where most grounds tilt towards spinners.
In the second ODI played in Visakhapatnam, the Aussies bundled out India for a paltry 117 runs. Former India captain Virat Kohli was the highest scorer with 31 runs followed by Axar Patel with 29. A very interesting highlight here is that no Indian batter had a strike rate in three digits barring Axar at 100. Kohli had the next best strike rate at 88.57.
Australia rattled off the winning runs without the loss of a single wicket. No blame can be attached to the Indian bowlers—it was the batters who lost India the match.
All the ten wickets were bagged by the Australian speedsters with Mitchell Starc capturing five, Sean Abbott three and Nathan Ellis the remaining two. The Indian bowlers looked totally innocuous.
Indian batters let down the team again in the third ODI played at the Chepauk in Chennai as well. Batting first, Australia put up a middling 269 runs giving their bowlers something to bowl at. Mitchell Marsh was the highest scorer with 47 runs off 47 balls. Several other batters got starts but failed to capitalise on them.
The same fate befell the Indian batters as well. Many got starts but failed to carry on. India was all out for 248 with Virat Kohli the highest scorer (54 runs). Unlike in the previous two ODIs, this time the Australian spinners were among the wickets. Adam Zampa captured four wickets for just 45 runs while his partner Ashton Agar snared two wickets for 41 off their allotted 10-overs each.
The Indian batters thus found themselves at the receiving end of both, the Australian spinners and fast bowlers. Teams with very dangerous bowling line-ups will be present in the World Cup and the Indian top-order batting needs to radically improve its performance if India has to have any chance of winning the World Cup later this year.
The India-Australia series has revealed chinks in the Indian armour which have to be remedied before the World Cup in October.
India will have to decide its opening batting combination and one or two middle-order batters. It will have to decide on its wicket-keeper. Similarly, the position of one all-rounder is still up for grabs and a choice has to be made between Washington Sundar and Axar Patel for this position.
In the bowling department, the majority of the fast bowlers automatically pick themselves but the spin line-up has competition. Will the selectors go for Kuldeep Yadav or Chahal or both? Will Washington be in the squad or Axar?
The most important question of who will open the batting along with Rohit Sharma has to be decided and quickly. Shubman Gill is the front-runner but given the fact that Shikhar Dhawan has now surprisingly been given a central contract (Grade C—Rs 1-crore), the experienced left-hander too has an outside chance of making it to the team. Perhaps he will be first tried out in the Asia Cup; if he performs well there, he could be selected for the World Cup.
The India-Australia series has revealed chinks in the Indian armour which have to be remedied before the World Cup in October. A core of about 20 players already exists and it is unlikely that the selectors will cast their net wider than this. The good thing is that the Indian selectors still have time to fine-tune their selection but they will have to do it quickly.