Both Ravichandran Ashwin (left) and Ishant Sharma have struggled to make their mark in ODIs © Getty Images
By Manish Madhusoodan
On paper, Indian batting line-up looks like one of the of strongest going around. Shikhar Dhawan twirls his moustache and plays audacious shots on the up, while Rohit Sharma amasses runs with his trademark elegance. This solid platform gives Virat Kohli the chance to capitalise on it and smash opposition attacks to smithereens. MS Dhoni, with his pyrotechnics and with the help of bowlers who bat, give the necessary finishing touches needed right at the end of the innings. With so much euphemism in the air, we even tend to forget about the plight of the bowlers in the line-up, because we know and tend to believe that we can chase anything and everything down.
The game is rarely played on a fixed plot though. First in South Africa and now in New Zealand, the faster bowlers and quicker pitches have exposed and reiterated the old flaw in the plot; lack of technique to handle overseas conditions. When Indian batsmen aren’t given anything to drive, the flow of runs is stemmed, then they tend to manufacture shot out of the short balls which they are not comfortable with facing in the first place. And when the openers are sent back to the pavilion cheaply, the middle-order struggles to make it count.
These five One-Day Internationals (ODIs) in New Zealand are just a trailer of a movie called ICC World Cup 2015. A tournament where one can expect even quicker pitches. and faster and accurate men breathing down the batsman’s throat., Barring one tie, India have nothing to show for during their tours of South Africa and New Zealand, respectively. Dhoni and team management need to get serious with team selections from now on.
Sometimes the writer gets a feeling that Indian team likes to play the same characters and use the same plot and same climax in all its sequels, if it were to make movies in an imaginary world. Same players are given an extended rope, while some are given ODI caps just for the heck of it and to shut the critics up. We all know that when Dhoni backs someone, he backs him to the hilt. But at times, he goes overboard with it.
Non-performers getting an extended run in the side
It was Rohit who got an extended run during his bad patch in 2012. And when the questions were raised, Dhoni elevated Rohit to open the batting. It solved the opener’s problem and Rohit held his spot, and to his credit it worked well. In England and West Indies and at home, he soared to great heights. He even made a double hundred in the home series against Australia. But after that he has essayed only two 50s and has looked like a fish out of the water, while playing away from home. He blocks too many deliveries and doesn’t rotate the strike, making a mockery of the left and right combination. Then finally, due to boredom, plays a rash shot to lose the plot.
Suresh Raina tends to be in the good books of the team management. To be brutally honest, the writer can’t recollect a single innings of true substance, where he has won a game when the team is in dire-straits. How many times have we witnessed Raina throwing it in the power-play overs and the commentators covering it up by bringing in words to the effect of ‘shifting gears’. One is still waiting for an innings of substance from him.
The issue is that his Indian Premier League (IPL) performance overtakes any cricketing logic. Raina has struggled to come good at most batting positions including him batting at No 4 these days. That can be seen by the fact that his last 50 was 23 games ago and that too against Zimbabwe. It speaks volumes about his form and the support he enjoys in the management.
Ishant Sharma continues to bowl like a newcomer and that too after playing six years at the highest level. A lot is spoken about his wrist position and his release, but he doesn’t seem to give a flip about it. Even then the selectors and Dhoni continue to bank upon him to deliver the goods. One feels that they have an image of Ishant bowling that magic ball to Ponting in 2007 and have replayed it over and over again.
Ravichandran Ashwin, away from home hardly takes wickets and does well with the willow once in a blue-moon. His line and length as an off-spinner in ODIs is erratic to say the least. He can hardly contain the batsman despite his carom ball and top spinner, let alone pick wickets. His rather below par records away from home tells you everything about his lack of penetration. And when the question of keeping his place in side arises, his batting comes to his rescue. One is minded here of Harbhajan Singh here. With Ravindra Jadeja being India’s lead spinner and Ashwin doing a job of a part-timer, Indian think-tank needs to find ways to look beyond the off-spinner.
Newcomers should be given a longer rope
Earlier against England in Dec 2012, Parwinder Awana was picked for two Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is) , he was visibly nervous and wasn’t impressive to begin with. Now, he finds himself in the wilderness after playing a mere two T20s. In the past too the likes of Manpreet Gony, Mohit Sharma and company were first picked on the back of IPL performances and the bar of expectation was wrongly set too high, and were judged far too early. This approach of picking bowlers, only to be dropped unceremoniously without being given a decent run in the side isn’t right. Now that Ishant has been dropped for Aaron, hope that the latter gets at least fraction of chances that Ishant got.
Even in South Africa, Mohit had one bad game and was dropped; he had played a series against Zimbabwe and had done reasonably. He is the same guy who did well for Chennai Super Kings (CSK) by making early inroads into the opposition. And now after the South African tour, he finds himself in the wilderness. Let us not even talk about Ishawar Pandey being in the squad or Stuart Binny. One can only hope that there is some clarity in selections and players are picked on the basis of performance. Unfortunately, there is every chance of same set of non-performers continuing to play.
(Manish Madhusoodan is a US-based software engineer who is a devotee of Test cricket. He blogs at desigiri.net)