Credit must be given to England for registering their first One-Day International (ODI) victory in India, in a bilateral series, after seven long years. They batted diligently and fielded well, and although their bowling — with the exception of James Tredwell — wasn’t up to the mark, it was enough to trump the Indians in their own backyard. The win would certainly rank high considering the fact that England was without the services of several first-rate players. The same can be said about the Indian side in transition, and they can walk away with quite a few positives despite having lost the game.
For starters, the openers offered resistance and dragged India back into the game. Ajinkya Rahane, who was drafted into the side in place of the non-performing Virender Sehwag, justified his inclusion and has strengthened his case for a longer run. Gautam Gambhir too was back among the runs, but it remains to be seen if he can build on this start and refrain from a relapse, as has so often happened in the past. The said partnership of 96 between Rahane and Gambhir was India’s first fifty-plus stand in 12 ODIs and highest since the last one year. This statistic sheds enough light on the conundrums India faced at the top.
In the middle-order, Suresh Raina and Mahendra Singh Dhoni are the only batsmen whose performances have stood out since the last few ODIs. They’ve consolidated, attacked and played as per the demands of the situation. Although their strike-rates tell a completely different tale, one cannot deny the fact that the Indian batting line-up would have been in a deeper predicament but for the duo. At one stage during the Rajkot ODI, when the two were at the crease, it certainly looked as though India would make mincemeat of the English total. “I won’t sound arrogant, but it seemed easy when I and Raina were in, with five fielders in the circle,” Dhoni aptly stated after the match.
At No.3, Virat Kohli’s last few games have been a sombre affair. With scores of 23, 0, 6, 7 and 15, he has looked a completely different batsman since the series against Sri Lanka. But having seen his attitude towards the game in the past and his undying appetite for runs, one feels that it’s only a matter of time before he dons the role of a protagonist in the batting line-up yet again. Yuvraj Singh’s scores of 72, against Pakistan at Ahmedabad, and 61, against England at Rajkot, show signs of recuperation. He was India’s highest scorer in the previous game but succumbed against the run of play. That’s an issue that needs to be addressed for India to have a sturdy middle-order in the remainder of this series.
India’s area of worry continues to be its bowling department. In the absence of Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav, the brittle attack was surely going to be tested. Not much should be expected from new entrants like Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Shami Ahmed right away, and the head honchos must be prepared to give them a longer run despite their sporadic performances during initial days. However, the responsibility lies on the shoulders of Ishant Sharma during this tentative phase. Injuries have forced him in and out of the side more often than not, but the fact remains that he has failed to grab the opportunities presented to him. As someone who was expected to fill Zaheer’s shoes a couple of years ago, Ishant has rarely advanced since then.
Ashok Dinda was drafted into the side in place of Shami Ahmed for the Rajkot ODI, and Dhoni justified the former’s inclusion on the basis of his ability to bowl yorkers in the death overs. While the reasoning could probably be true, it must be realised that frequent shuffling of bowlers in and out of the side is only going to hamper their progress. It could have augured well to field Shami in the first game, considering the youngster’s recent exploits against Pakistan. Nevertheless, there is a high possibility of Ishant making way for Shami during the Kochi ODI.
In the first game at Rajkot, there wasn’t much to choose between the batting of the two sides. Both line-ups got starts but none carried their bat till the end. The difference was undoubtedly James Tredwell’s inspired spell of bowling. Unfortunately for India, none of the bowlers, barring part-timer Suresh Raina, managed to perplex the English batsmen. If that aspect of the game can be bettered during the next ODI and games after that, then India could still script a roaring comeback in the series.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)