The ongoing 7-ODI series between India and Australia has thrown up a few interesting issues for both teams. Many said that this was a useless series for the Aussies, who would only be destroyed and demoralized before the return Ashes series Down Under (November).
But sans captain Clarke, under the resourceful Bailey, this Australian ODI team has shown that they are worthy of their controversial no. 2 ranking. They have used their IPL experience and adapted to conditions, creating specific plans for the talented Indian batsmen they are so familiar with. All has not gone to plan of course, India’s three scores of 300+ indicative of flat pitches and crazed shotmaking- but the Aussies have had more positives than negatives to take out of this series so far. Their weak links could be skittled down to- at the most- the form of Haddin. 2-1 up in the series with 2 games to go, they are in a position to rejuvenate Australian cricket.
The Indians, on the other hand, are reeling from a blind punch. Their batting has matched the hype so far, as always. But it was always about how their batting could always nullify their bowling deficiencies. Playing abroad for the last few months, their bowlers have found more help from the pitches and have been able to cover their obvious lack of pace and seam with variations. It has helped, though, that all their top order batsmen were in devastating form. And teams like Zimbabwe, West Indies and Sri Lanka on overseas pitches were never going to be their most challenging competitors.
Now, on home pitches, with their bowlers exposed to every cruelty in the world- the team looks like a helpless sitting duck. The bowlers are actually out to prove that they can nullify the most dangerous batting order in world cricket. And they are succeeding, against the likes of Finch, Bailey and Maxwell. That can still be forgiven, because they are batsmen in good form- but when a bowler like Faulkner smashes you all around the ground under pressure, you’ve got problems.
The problems largely stem from the bowlers’ inability to learn from their mistakes.
He believes that his strength has always been his height and his ability to hit the deck under any conditions. What he refuses to accept is that he doesn’t have the pace anymore, and that his angle of delivery is so predictable that he gets nothing but the sweetest spot of the bat- especially on flat bouncy sub continental pitches. Morgan and Bopara are the guys to blame. If not for their wickets in the Champions Trophy Final, Ishant would have never seen the light of day after that game. He was bowling some disastrous balls, and a stroke of luck, a rush of blood- the kind that batsmen feel when they see someone like Kohli run up to bowl- cost England the match and India their bowling future. Ishant remained untouched and continued to ‘sprearhead’ a headless attack. His tendency to bowl fiery spells during a lull in games has disappeared after IPL 2012. His economy rate of 5.7 in 68 ODIs without a single five wicket haul: ordinary figures by any standards. But Dhoni continues to persist with him, for lack of more experienced options. Ishant nullifies his experience in the slog overs, often going at 9 an over. Dhoni hopes for a Rohit Sharma sort of comeback from Ishant, but the captain cannot turn a blind eye to how Ishant is now categorized as a medium pacer. At Delhi, after the Faulkner 30-run onslaught, Ishant may have played his last ODI game for a while- especially after Shami’s new ball burst in Ranchi. Ishant is going through the Harbhajan syndrome right now, where he can only take wickets if batsmen go after him in desperation- but shockingly, the batsmen are succeeding more often.
Vinay Kumar, an IPL specialist, considers himself to be the Indian McKay. All he has are variations in pace and slower balls. His normal speed of 75-80 mph is fodder for hard hitters like Finch and Maxwell, and he is one of the most expensive Indian bowlers in the last two years. His economy rate is the same as Ishant, and his average is even worse at 35 in his 30 ODIs. That is not much experience either, so there is no real reason to persist with him. Even Yadav is a better option in ODIs because he has the pace to trouble batsmen.
Ever since Jadeja has become India’s lead spinner, atleast statistically, Ashwin has struggled to stick to his own role. He has visibly been worried about his lack of wicket taking in ODIs, and has therefore tried too many variations. His average has crept above 30 during this series, and he is no more the bowling all rounder that India needed- because Jadeja has filled that role. His test stats continue to be impressive despite an Off test here and there, and he forms a good partnership with Jadeja in whites. But after a lukewarm Champions League T20, he is struggling to keep the runs down- with his economy rate still under 5. With Mishra waiting eagerly on the bench, Ashwin will have to discover an X-factor or he will have to be content with being a Test specialist.