By Nishad Pai Vaidya
It required Gautam Gambhir’s patience and Suresh Raina’s brilliance to maintain India’s good run at the Premadasa Stadium, Colombo. A target above 280 had never been overhauled in a day-night game at the venue and a spirited run-chase by the Indian’s has re-written the records. Gambhir’s knock laid a solid foundation and rallied the innings, but it was Raina’s blitz that gave the finishing touches. After the hammering at Hambantota in the second One-Day International (ODI), this performance would reassure India and give them the confidence to raise the bar in the games to come.
Prior to this game, the highest total chased at Premadasa was 271 by India against England in the 2002 Champions Trophy. Although, a number of teams have successfully chased totals at the said venue after the 2011 World Cup, a score of 250 was never overhauled in the period. Thus, India’s triumphant charge in the third ODI is remarkable as not only did they win from a tricky situation, but also battled the odds stacked against them.
Gambhir started from where he left off at Hambantota – where his fighting 65 was the only positive in an otherwise forgettable performance. In the face of a daunting target, Virender Sehwag’s early dismissal was a huge blow. But, Gambhir took the attack to the opposition and kept India at par with the asking rate. He charged down the track on a few occasions to put pressure on the bowlers and it set the tone for his knock. Even when the asking rate was rising, Gambhir maintained a good pace and kept the scoreboard ticking.
One can understand the true value of Gambhir’s knock by comparing it with Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s stay. Both struggled to push the tempo and weren’t able to score as fluently as they usually do. Kohli’s 65-ball 38 was a real surprise, considering the fact that he is in the middle of a purple patch. On the other hand, Dhoni was probably building towards a flourish – a strategy he has successfully employed in the past. However, a Lasith Malinga yorker disturbed his woodwork.
Dhoni’s promotion was a positive move as he took the initiative to partner Gambhir in the run-chase. Some of Dhoni’s memorable knocks have come at the top and such moves always raise expectations of the fans. While Dhoni has been phenomenal when he has batted higher in the order, it is the surprise element that has caught the opposition off-guard. If he does it time and again, that weapon may lose its shock value and his role would be like any other batsmen. The role of a floater allows him a sense of flexibility and the team a cushion to bank upon.
In the long run, a frequent spot at the top may not be the best idea as there are other batsmen who have justified their positions. Raina, Kohli and Rohit Sharma (except the ongoing series) have done well at numbers before Dhoni and replacing them would also mean break their rhythm. An occasional shuffle is always welcome though. Even if Dhoni bats lower down the order, there is some sense of stability as he can take the team close and more often than not finish the game.
A third consecutive failure for Rohit has sparked more suggestions for his axing. When things don’t go your way, the first delivery you face is a toe crusher from the world’s most dangerous limited-overs bowler. He may have been unlucky on this occasion, but his two previous failures have certainly pushed him in the corner. The pressure to axe him has intensified particularly because Manoj Tiwary and Ajinkya Rahane are waiting in the wings.
However, the critic must ask himself the question: Are we being too harsh on Rohit? After all, he won two man-of-the series awards last year. In Australia, he got a raw-deal in the Test series and the long wait on the bench affected his form. He had a decent Asia Cup where his match-winning fifty against Pakistan helped Kohli seal a fantastic triumph. Considering these facts, Rohit may deserve more chances. However, when one brings Tiwary into the picture and the fact that he has scored a hundred in his last ODI, the arguments to persist with Rohit weaken big time.
Raina has become India’s go-to man as a soaring asking rate doesn’t daunt him. Instead, it allows him the freedom to express himself. If India are batting first, he comes in to provide the finishing touches and power the team to a higher pedestal. While chasing, Raina can help win games with some belligerent batting that takes the opposition by storm. While people may question his technique against the short ball, there are no doubts about his ODI credentials. If he can work on that aspect of his game, he would make a much stronger player with the ability to succeed in all conditions.
The Indian bowling is yet to mark a tick in the box. Some bowlers have done well individually, but their effort as a unit needs to improve. They allowed Sri Lanka to a big score as the hosts launched an attack in the slog overs. Zaheer Khan’s performance was stable, while Irfan Pathan is still finding his best touch. However, a cool knock with the bat in a successful run-chase would do his confidence a world of good. The only problem is the enthusiastic Indian fan may prematurely announce the re-discovery of a genuine all-rounder.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)