Indian players will have some experience of playing in New Zealand conditions ahead of ICC World Cup 2015 © Getty Images
By Shrikant Shankar
India were trounced on Friday by New Zealand to seal the One-Day International (ODI) series 4-0. Losses in the first two matches were by close margins. Then came the tie in the third ODI. New Zealand were better with the bat in the fourth and won comfortably. They took confidence from those results into the fifth and final ODI in Wellington and won the match by 87 runs. That is a clear sign that India were outplayed in the match. New Zealand were far better than India in every department and was highlighted in the eventual series score line.
If a few players have to be marked out as positives for India from the series, then Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni and to a certain extent Ravindra Jadeja will make the cut. People might say that Ravichandran Ashwin played a helping hand in India not getting whitewashed in the series. His batting heroics in the third ODI ensured India at least tied the match, but he is part of the team to mainly take wickets. He took a solitary wicket from the matches in the series — simply not good enough. Apart from one innings, Rohit Sharma as well failed to live up to his billing. All his great knocks have come in India, something he has to turn it around quickly.
Shikhar Dhawan was a huge disappointment. The list is actually long, as most of them failed to deliver. There will be enquiries and questions asked on what went wrong. Two simple things were the fact that New Zealand were hungrier and better, while India were not. Losing 2-0 to South Africa last year will not be considered as a huge setback, as there were only three matches. But against eighth-placed New Zealand, entering the series as No 1, losing 4-0 will hurt. There will be people saying that certain players must be dropped and some other players must be picked in their place
While such losses generally result in changes, a wholesale makeover is not needed. India were supreme for the majority of 2013. They won six ODI series in the year and the best amongst the lot was the win in the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy in England. India’s squad during that tournament was much the same as the one that played in New Zealand. What went wrong is that players were not in form. In England, Dhawan, Rohit and Kohli were in great nick with the bat. Jadeja, Ashwin and to everyone’s surprise, Ishant Sharma were amongst the wickets.
Kohli and Dhoni seem to be perennially in form — something that India and Indian fans would like to continue for as long as possible. After the Champions Trophy triumph, India were touted as the favourites for the ICC World Cup 2015. The tournament will be held in Australia and New Zealand. Both the host nations have just shown how difficult it will be for the rest of the teams to beat them in their own turf. Australia thrashed England 4-1 in the ODI series and then New Zealand beat India 4-0. These two teams have to be amongst the favourites, and with some luck, they can go all the way.
On a positive note, India know now how the conditions will be, at least in New Zealand, and what they can expect. This will help them prepare better in one year’s time. That is why the core of the players from this squad must be given confidence and trusted in to defend the World Cup India they won in 2011. This team is young and has a lot of flaws that needs to be ironed out. But in one year’s time, they will be more experienced.
Taking a large set of players who have not played in these conditions will not help, hence faith should be shown on current players. There are already talks of experienced pros like Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh to be included in the ODI squad. Doing so is not a bad idea at all, as all of them know the conditions in Australia and New Zealand, and they can bring their experience into it. But the core of this current side has to be persisted with, as that is how India can move forward positively.
(Shrikant Shankar is a writer/reporter at CricketCountry.com. Previously he has done audio commentary for various matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)