The first ODI between India and Australia at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai was a shockingly one-sided affair. India huffed and puffed to 255 all out – a very 1990s’ score, and the visitors chased it down with 11 overs to spare and, wait for it, 10 wickets in hand. The brutal Warner-Finch stand was the highest opening partnership against India in ODI cricket.
The 10-wicket defeat exposed some familiar problems in the Indian ODI side. The team has been playing against pretty ordinary opposition since losing the world cup semifinal last year, and collapsed against the first strong side it faced. The series is still not lost though, but another defeat will result in India losing its second consecutive ODI series to Australia at home in less than a year. Here are three burning issues Virat Kohli’s India needs to sort out for the second ODI in Rajkot and the third in Bengaluru.
Find a middle order
The failure of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli exposes a soft, inexperienced middle order that almost always fails to fire – especially in the absence of an injured Hardik Pandya. India thought its hunt for a number 4 had ended with the arrival of Shreyas Iyer, but in the last game was set up so blatantly by the Aussies that it’s hard to be confident about him against quality opposition. Rishabh Pant, meanwhile, is still to prove his dashing credentials in ODI cricket despite getting enough chances. The top three fires more often than not, but in the off chance that they fail to deliver the goods, India must have a stable combination for their numbers 4, 5 and 6.
Kohli is the number 3
At Mumbai, Virat Kohli generously demoted himself to no. 4 to accommodate three in-form openers in Rohit, Rahul and Dhawan. India previously did this in the 2011 World Cup – with Sehwag and Tendulkar opening the batting and Gambhir batting at 3. It worked then, but also because India had the services of Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina in the middle order. Here they have an untested Iyer and an inconsistent Pant. Since Kohli batted at 4, Iyer came in at 5 and looked clueless in that phase. Pant had to bat with the tail but perished before them. Again, it all comes down to one of Kohli, Rohit and Dhawan going on to make a century. Add Rahul to the mix – but the top-heaviness of the batting order doesn’t augur well for the future. On Tuesday, Dhawan and Rahul got out on 74 and 47 respectively after a slow start, and nobody went on to play a big hand. This simple shortcoming made Australia pounce and demolish India.
What if Bumrah has an off day?
Jasprit Bumrah, returning to international cricket after a long injury lay-off, was played with relative ease by Australian captain Aaron Finch. Bumrah’s seemed to struggle a bit with his rhythm and they milked him for boundaries. Suddenly, the prospect of a Bumrah-less attack against a quality side seemed like a nightmare. None of the other bowlers, not even Mohammed Shami who has been brilliant in ODI cricket, stood up. Shardul Thakur cannot be played as the third seamer only for the batting spunk he provides in the lower order. The quicker Navdeep Saini must be given a look-in. India’s batting insecurities have made them opt for Ravindra Jadeja – an average ODI bowler – as the second spinner alongside Kuldeep Yadav. Resultantly, the successful combo of Yadav and Yuzuvendra Chahal has been broken, and since then India have struggled with the balance in its bowling attack. Hardik’s return might see him directly replace Thakur, but India is desperately missing a sixth part-time bowler. Kedar Jadhav usually plays that role, but one can’t help but reminisce of the Yuvraj and Sehwag days. It’s strange that Rohit Sharma has never been asked to roll his arm for a few overs.