169 runs. 6 wickets. 6 wickets. These are the margins of victory in the first 3 matches by India over Sri Lanka, in a series that wasn’t even supposed to exist. The Lankans have made it clear time and again, if not by words then by actions, that they are ill-prepared; even 4 games later (1 warm-up+3 ODIs), they fail to find a semblance of competence in their side.
A few things have stood out so far. However, the management must exercise caution, because this series could serve as a red herring considering it’s on flat home pitches—and could fool India into picking a team that will be destroyed Down Under.
SHIKHAR’S CALL TO ARMS
Shikhar Dhawan has scored just under 300 runs in the first 3 matches—albeit with some luck, and not always with utmost grace. He has pretty much sealed his ODI opening spot, and when Rohit returns, the team will have to pick between Rahane and him for the second spot. On Australian pitches though, if Dhawan bats like he did in England, he will be a proven home specialist, despite scoring some runs in New Zealand after being under the boil.
Young Akshar Patel has shown, over 3 games, how ineffective the lead duo of spinners Ashwin and Jadeja are at spinning the ball. Patel, with his height, gets enough purchase and bounce of the pitch to trouble any batsman that tries to attack—and has snagged 7 wickets in 3 games. He has made a strong statement after an impressive performance against WI in the first 3 games too, and will definitely be considered as lead spinner for Australia. However, Dhoni often likes his spinners to be able to bat, which is why Ashwin and Jadeja even exist in the scheme of matters. But Patel is no slouch with the bat, and to top it all, bowls left-arm spin better than Jadeja can. His economy rate over 3 games has been less than 4.
The highest wicket-taker of the series so far, Yadav has snagged 8 wickets—most of the top-order, and has managed to curb his inconsistencies well enough in the absence of Kumar and Shami. Yadav is thriving under the responsibility of being the lead bowler, and despite a few rubbish full tosses, he has troubled left-handers with his pace and length consistently. Bowling above 140 kmph must be most heartening to achieve, and even more heartening to watch as a pace-starved Indian viewer.
KOHLI’S LEADING ACT
Kohli made a decision not many expected him to, as the captain of the side—the sort of instinctive decision Dhoni is famous for. Kohli is probably the best Indian ODI batsman in years at no. 3, but he gave up his spot and put Rayadu in the line of fire while chasing at Ahmedabad – when India were in a slight spot of bother because of the slow scoring rate. Rayadu responded with his maiden century, and Kohli stuck to him at 3 in the next game too. This is selfless captaincy of the highest order, especially considering the fact that no. 3 is probably the most crucial batting spot in the team. Rayadu seems to enjoy being pro-active, and for now, Kohli isn’t bothering too much about his individual statistics—despite being the fastest-ever player to reach 6000 runs (already?) in ODI history.
Ashwin’s gotten his few wickets through not so much as deception as the batsmen’s desperation to attack at a non-Patel end. He has been out-bowled by his younger partner, but has still managed to be relevant. However, on Aussie pitches, where one spinner is a spinner too many at times, one highly doubts Ashwin is the man for that spot right now—because he certainly isn’t in the team for his batting.
SAHA KEEPS SAFE
Saha, who has replaced Dhoni as the wicketkeeper for the first 3 games, has done his own reputation no harm by keeping wickets with confidence and skill. He hasn’t gotten a chance to score many runs, but has displayed tremendous resourcefulness behind the stumps, a genuine keeper-batsman, the last of which we saw when Nayan Mongia played in Indian colours. Dhoni is more of a batsman-keeper, as was Karthik and Parthiv Patel. Saha’s breed is almost extinct, but this doesn’t mean he is a useless bat either.