India v/s England, ODI series
Result: India win first game to lead 1-0 in 3-match series
It ended up becoming a Super Sunday for the Indian ODI team at Pune. After conceding 350 to England, and being 63/4 while chasing, the team – led by (again) captain Virat Kohli and 32-year-old journeyman Kedhar Jadhav – hunted down the total with 11 balls to spare.
Again, in this ever-evolving arena of run-scoring in limited-overs cricket, a lot of records were broken. Many say that this was the only way the Virat Kohli era could have begun in the shorter form of the game – by chasing an improbable score as if it were just another day in the office.
Jadhav’s tremendous counter-attacking innings at number 6 outshadowed the chase-master’s innings for once, though both weren’t at the crease when India finally hit the winning runs. Kohli scored his 27th ODI century: his 17th century in ODI chases in only 96 such innings, breaking Tendulkar’s record of 16 chasing centuries in 233 innings. Kohli has playing international cricket for less than 8 years. It was also Kohli’s 14th century in successful chases, equaling Tendulkar’s record. Out of the last 6 times India have chased down 300+ scores, Kohli has scored centuries in four of them. This was the sixth highest chase of all time, too, just behind India’s highest – a marauding 362/1 – against Australia back in 2013, when Rohit Sharma and (again) Kohli took them home with 9 wickets and 7 overs to spare.
The glory and stats aside, though, India were 63/4 at one stage, after conceding 110 runs in their last 8 overs of bowling. If Kohli’s outside edge that flew over the third man had been a yard shorter, India would have been 5 down for less than 100, and it was over. It could have even been a record loss, given the temperament of the lower-middle order: Hardik Pandya looked like a panicked duck in his first 20 balls, while B did only what Jadeja does – miscuing a harebrained loft inside the circle when the shot was easily the most idiotic option at that point.
Clearly, this wasn’t India’s best ODI team on the field. The selection was questionable as soon as the team was declared at the toss. There are a few major problems that need to be rectified:
SHIKHAR DHAWAN, WHO?
Arguably, Dhawan was the opener to pick on “recent” form. But the problem here is that “recent” meant exactly a year ago, when he played the ODI series in Australia, and scored two fifties and a hundred in the last three matches. He was injured most of 2016, and had been dropped from the test team, and had not played an ODI since January all year. He missed the New Zealand 5-match series, too. So it was perhaps fair to consider him again, given that Rohit Sharma is still injured. Dhawan, though, has made a habit of making a scratchy fifty when his back is against the wall. Just when he is on the verge of being dropped often, he scores a 60-odd and retains his place. These three ODIs were to be his final chance before the Champion’s Trophy in England in June – ironically the same venue and tournament where he announced himself to the world in 2013 when India won the trophy. But Dhawan’s ability to get cramped and his stubbornness to piece the off-side, no matter where the ball is bowled, is a great weakness. Once again, after a terrible start, he slashed the ball straight to third man for 1 – with his team already way behind the 8-ball, and leaving the rest with a mountain to climb. It has been an unfortunate few years for him, but he has, to his credit, always bounced back – even though he hasn’t been the most attractive to watch. This time, though, another failure could be curtains for him, given that Rohit will still be the first pick when he returns in March.
Solution: Drop Dhawan, blood KL Rahul as an opener along with Rohit, and keep Ajinkya Rahane waiting in the wings as the backup.
YUVRAJ SINGH, AGAIN?
India’s selection of the 35-year-old Southpaw is a step behind in many ways. He played his first ODI in more than three years – and was looking good in his 12-ball stay at the crease, until he nicked one down the leg side. It wasn’t the most fortunate end, but one needs a surer hand at number 4 in this line-up. There is no logic to choosing Singh, well past his best, for his intermittent flashes of brilliance, instead of choosing a younger, hungrier and more consistent player. Manish Pandey didn’t do himself any favors by failing in the New Zealand series, and Suresh Raina is no more in the scheme of things now that Dhoni isn’t the captain. India need a solid number 4, especially during chases.
Solution: No sentimentality, no promoting Dhoni. Find a specialist. Blood Manish Pandey further, and keep guys like Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant and Parthiv Patel waiting in the wings to heap on the pressure. Move on, not behind.
RAVICHANDRAN ASHWIN NO MORE
Ashwin, much like Dale Steyn, has always struggled to bridge the vast gap between his test and ODI personas. He has been a champion bowler in test cricket, when batsmen don’t really consider going after him. He has been decent in T20 cricket, too, given that batsmen have no choice but to go after him in 4 overs – though he is more of an all-or-nothing bowler who indicates whether he is going to have a good or bad day immediately. The Cricketer of the Year, however, is not an automatic pick for ODI cricket as the leading spinner. He leaked 63 runs from his 8 overs, with Yuvraj Singh completing his other 2 overs. He went wicketless, as the English batsmen went after him. He was slow on the field, and his classical batting looks a bit out of place in India’s resourceful slam-bam line-up. Jadeja’s brainless batting is arguably worse, but his role is to stop the runs while bowling, and nobody does that better than him. He gave only 50 runs in his 10 overs, while Ashwin struggled for pace, line, length and control.
Solution: There is no immediate solution, but it’d be good to handle him as a horses-for-courses bowler. Pick an attacking spinner in Amit Mishra for some games, or give genuine limited-overs all-rounders like Axar Patel a bit of a longer rope. Ashwin doesn’t inspire as much confidence with the ball in hand as he does in test cricket.
COME ON, DHONI
He solely exists as the keeper-batsman in the side, but has scored only one fifty in the last two years – with his average dipping to just about more than 50. With Kohli chasing the way he does, Dhoni’s role has become a bit outdated and redundant, as he hasn’t been able to recapture that aggression (though he tried, on Sunday). With Parthiv Patel at the peak of his career, and Pant waiting in T20 cricket, Dhoni has to prove that he has it in him to last all of 2017 as a final hurrah. He needs to play more competitive cricket during test season, perhaps going back to the domestic ODI tournaments or participating in T20 bashes.
Umesh Yadav’s ‘off’ days are worse than anything India can afford. He bowled awfully on Sunday, as did the otherwise-clean Jasprit Bumrah. If not for Hardik Pandya’s control (yes), India would have conceded 380. Guys like Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who are waiting in the wings, need to grab their opportunity when given the chance. It’s their time to step up. While Mohammad Shami’s brittle body needs to be looked at carefully to get the maximum out of him. He is India’s best pace bowler, but barely bowls anymore, like Zaheer Khan towards the end of his career.
India’s Best-Available ODI Team for this series:
Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Manish Pandey, MS Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Amit Mishra, Jasprit Bumrah
12th man: Umesh Yadav