Inconsistent India fight to save series against New Zealand in 3rd ODI
Ravichandran Ashwin (left) has conceded runs at 5.89 per over in the last five matches while Ishant Sharma (left) has conceded at 6.12 per over in four games © Getty Images


By Chetan Narula


Auckland: Jan 24, 2014


Their campaign in tatters after two consecutive defeats, India need to regroup quickly and find the right combination as they go into a must-win match against a gutsy New Zealand in the third cricket one-dayer at Auckland on Saturday.


Down 0-2 and having lost the world no. 1 tag, the Indian team would be desperate to make amends and stamp their authority in what will be their last chance to make a comeback into the five-match series.


If Dhoni’s men fail to win on Saturday, it will be their second consecutive series loss after South Africa outside the subcontinent.


The visitors lost the first ODI at Napier by 24 runs and then went down in the second one-dayer by 15 runs (D/L method) at Hamilton, which dethroned India from the number one ranking in the ODIs.


Overall, Dhoni and Co. have lost four of their last five one-dayers, all of which were played outside the sub-continent. This has undoubtedly opened up a number of points for the concerned team to ponder upon.


The fact that the Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni likes to chase, opting to bowl first in both matches so far, the size of Eden Park should be another worry for him.


The Indians have looked to contain the batsmen in the middle of the innings before restricting the damage in the death overs, and this strategy has so far backfired. It is because not many wickets have fallen until the 35th over.


Only three wickets fell before the 35th over in Napier, with Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor batting since the eighth over. It was much the similar case in Hamilton.


Ravichandran Ashwin has not taken a single wicket in the last two ODIs. But the blame doesn’t lie with him alone, since Dhoni uses his main bowlers in short bursts and makes them bowl during the powerplays as well as death overs. If the idea is to contain runs rather than taking wickets, it is precisely where the Indian bowling is failing.


Ashwin has conceded runs at 5.89 per over in the last five matches, while Ishant Sharma (six wickets) has conceded at 6.12 per over in four games.


Other bowlers in Ravindra Jadeja (three wickets) has conceded at 6 per over, while Bhuvneshwar Kumar (two wickets) has played only three matches and gone for 5.73 per over. Mohammed Shami is by far the most expensive bowler, giving away runs at 6.70, but that is negated by his ability to take wickets — 16 in five matches.


The size of this ground should excite the Indian batsmen, but these are troublesome times. The openers — Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma — have produced their best opening stand in the last four ODIs on foreign soil, worth a meagre 22 runs.


There has been a marked difference in the manner they have performed, both as a pair and as individuals, ever since India finished their home leg of this 2013-14 season.


While they played handsome hands with some regularity in chases of 300-plus at home, in South Africa and now here in New Zealand, they have struggled to find the optimum balance between attacking stroke-play and curbing their natural instincts to give the team a solid start.


Rohit, whose batting is defined by the ease with which he scores, has found the going tough. His shot-making options have been closed down at the beginning of the innings as the two new balls do a lot in these friendly conditions.


Meanwhile, bounce troubled Dhawan in South Africa and got the better of him again in Napier, before he played a horrific shot to get bowled at Hamilton.


Their performances in the last year, adding 1247 runs in 22 matches at an average of 59.38, means that they have been given a long rope at the top of the order. But their performance outside the subcontinent is surely going to give way to some serious questions being asked, unless things change around from here on.


At number four, Ajinkya Rahane has put on 90 runs for the third wicket with Virat Kohli in the second ODI, contributing 36 runs to the stand. This isn’t a very high score but it must have been a relief for the team to see someone other than Kohli or Dhoni scoring runs in a chase, as also standing up to the rivals.


It puts the spotlight on the other end of the batting line-up, wherein Suresh Raina is struggling to produce runs.


He is under the scanner more anyone else, as Yuvraj Singh was dropped after the South African tour.


Whilst batting in the nets, Raina picked up a knock on his left arm, treated with ice-packs and heavily bandaged. But if he is able to pick his bat, he is expected to play, in what is arguably a make-or-break game for him.


With the series on the line here, Dhoni must re-think of the playing XI with Ambati Rayudu, Stuart Binny, Amit Mishra, Ishwar Pandey and Varun Aaron sitting on the bench. Will the team think-tank look to make changes or will they stick to their guns of fielding the current eleven will be something to watch out for.


Even as the visiting camp may seem chaotic, the hosts are particularly calm and composed.


Since New Zealand have a cushion of two victories going ahead, they will be looking to close-out the series in the third match itself, given that the fourth ODI is again in Hamilton where the square is arguably slower.


While windy Wellington could be fairly unpredictable for a series finale.


The drop-in pitch at Eden Park will keep their bowlers very interested. Hamish Bennett, with his lively pace, is expected to come into contention for a place in the side as the pitch curator Blair Christiansen assured that the wicket will generate some pace and bounce, enticing both batsmen and bowlers.


The boundaries down the ground are shorter than 55 metres while the square boundaries at 66 meters are longest parts of this makes-shift cricket stadium. It allowed two chases of 200-plus in the domestic T20 matches here recently.


It will bring short bowling into play as well. Needless to say, India will again be on trial in more ways than one.