By Nishad Pai Vaidya
A 0-4 drubbing can demolish the morale of any team. To rise above such a nadir, a team needs all its departments to function in tandem and bring their best to the fore. Be it batting, bowling or fielding, team India needs to rise above the mediocrity they displayed in the Test series and make substantial amends in the One-Day Internationals (ODIs).
During the Test series, the Indian bowling showed brilliance in patches but simply switched off when they could do some serious damage to the England batting line-up. Zaheer Khan’s absence affected them big time as they lacked a spearhead who would not only pick up wickets but would also guide the others and pass on valuable tips from the wealth of his experience.
India move into the ODIs with a bowling attack that contains a few who have played the Test matches and the some others who have just flown in to be a part of the limited-overs leg. Zaheer Khan, India’s most successful bowler in the World Cup, would be missing along with their frontline spinner Harbhajan Singh. The off-spinner may have lost his wicket taking ability in Tests, but he has done decently well in ODIs. India will miss him in the middle overs where he makes it difficult for the batsmen to score runs.
Although Zaheer is India’s trump card with the ball in ODIs, they aren’t overly dependent on him the way they are in Test matches. The likes of Munaf Patel and Praveen Kumar have supported him well and have bowled quite a few crucial spells to reduce the pressure on Zaheer.
In fact, Munaf Patel was termed as the “unsung hero of the World Cup” by India’s bowling coach Eric Simmons. During the World Cup he used change of pace and off-cutters as weapons of deception to fox the batsmen. He may have lost pace over the years, but he can bowl a nagging line and length around the off stump which is difficult to get away if you are a batsman. Although he was a part of the Test squad, he didn’t get to play any of the Test matches so he would be fresh and raring to go. Munaf can also extract good seam movement and he should look to do that in England as the conditions would be helpful.
On the other hand, Praveen missed the World Cup due to injury but has made a good comeback since. The important thing is that he was India’s best bowler in the Test series as he used the conditions to good effect and bowled to his strength - swing. Praveen may not have pace but he can swing the ball a mile and isn’t easy to play especially when the ball is new. He is in good form and will be ready to start off proceedings for India with the new ball. Thus, Munaf and Praveen are certainties as far as the fast bowling department is concerned and they will be the key to India’s success against the English batsmen.
It’s important to play three fast bowlers in England. With Munaf and Praveen being certainties, India have to decide on the third fast bowler. The options they have are Rudra Pratap Singh, Vinay Kumar and Varun Aaron. The last named, who is on his first tour with the Indian team, may not get a game, which means it would be a toss-up between RP Singh and Vinay Kumar.
The choice between RP and Vinay Kumar isn’t an easy one to make. RP was called out of nowhere as a replacement for Zaheer Khan during the Test series and looked very rusty in The Oval Test. He wasn’t bowling full pace and struggled in the field. However, in the tour game against Sussex he picked up four wickets to say that he is still up for the challenge.
On the other hand Vinay Kumar is coming off a good outing in the Emerging Players Tournament in Australia. He was a part of the ODI team to the West Indies and played only one game where he bowled a brilliant opening spell but was hit around the park in the slog overs. Vinay Kumar is essentially a wicket taker but he lacks pace and at times batsmen can get stuck into him and hit him around the park. Thus, Dhoni will only be able to decide between RP Singh and Vinay once the practice games are over. The one who performs better would be in the eleven for the first ODI.
Coming to the spinners spot, Ravichandran Ashwin should pip Amit Mishra. Not many English batsmen would have played Ashwin as most of them do not play in the Indian Premier League. To add to that, Ashwin hasn’t played an international game against England. This will help India as Ashwin isn’t the easy to deal with when you play him the first time. His carom ball is his biggest strength and he should use it in the ODIs.
India’s biggest worry in the bowling department would be the lack of the fifth bowler. During the World Cup, Yuvraj Singh filled into that role perfectly as he consistently bowled his full quota of 10 overs and also picked up wickets. His absence has left a hole not just in the batting but also the bowling as none of India’s batsmen can bowl the full quota. At max, they can share the 10 overs amongst themselves but when you add up the figures, they may be a touch expensive in the context of the game.
As discussed in my previous article, Dhoni may be tempted to play Mishra ahead of Suresh Raina as he is having a nightmare of a tour with the bat. Mishra has impressed with the bat, but hasn’t done much with the ball but may be used as a fifth bowler and can be useful as a batsman at No 7. It is a tough choice which Dhoni would have to make.
India’s win over Sussex was a complete team effort. The bowlers chipped in and the top order set up the run-chase beautifully. Later, India also eked out a five-run win over Kent in a rain-curtailed 20-over-a-side practice match. The two wins will help India, to some extent, lift themselves from the depths of depression after the Test series.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.")