MS Dhoni-led Team India was thrashed 3-1 in the Test series © Getty Images
By Chetan Narula
Bristol: Aug 24, 2014
Their morale battered by the Test series debacle, India would look to make a fresh beginning and salvage lost pride when they take on England in a five-match One-Day Internationals (ODI) series starting on Monday. On one hand, the Indians will be distracted by the 1-3 series loss in the Test series prior and will want to do well in the ODIs, on the other, they will also need to balance their approach keeping next year’s World Cup in mind.
That tournament, to be hosted by Australia and New Zealand, is now just six months away. From here onwards, every ODI played by the Indian team will be a preparatory step towards defending their 2011 crown Down Under.
And to do so, they will be evaluating players in the three ODI series between now and the World Cup — here in England, at home against West Indies and then the tri-series on the Australian tour.
Already, the Indian selectors have taken stock of the situation at hand and the 17-man squad is a reflection of their thoughts.
Sanju Samson and Karn Sharma represent their line of thinking in that the squad will need an additional wicket-keeper as well as a probable third spin-bowling all-round option.
But there is a question-mark over how many opportunities these two youngsters will get in the current five-match series.
This is because the middle-order and all-round/spin-option slots have enough contenders at the moment.
Starting with the latter, Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin will fill up the two spin options in the playing eleven.
Earlier this year in New Zealand, in the fourth ODI at Hamilton, Stuart Binny was introduced as an alternate and his exploits in Bangladesh showed that he will remain one in conditions that assist swing.
However Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a little circumspect about using four medium pace options as it slows down the over-rate.
It will be interesting to see if he will opt for two spinners straight-away, irrespective of conditions in Bristol, given that Binny didn’t get to bowl in the warm-up game against Middlesex on Friday.
On that day, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami bowled short spells and it was a clear sign that the team management wanted to preserve them before things get heated.
They are expected to be the first-choice bowlers, but who will be the third leg of this tripod? Including Binny, India had seven options to choose from in the pace department during the Test series.
They are similarly spoilt for choice this time as well, with Umesh Yadav, Mohit Sharma and Dhawal Kulkarni to choose from.
It has to be a careful choice in terms of the attack’s balance. This is because on the last two overseas tours, Dhoni always won the toss and opted to bowl first with just one exception.
On seven such occasions in South Africa and New Zealand then, India conceded 358, 281, 301, 292, 271, 314 and 303. The one time they batted first, in that afore-mentioned Hamilton ODI, they couldn’t defend 278.
Playing five bowlers isn’t a choice but a clearly forced strategic move. It has impacted the batting as well and not just because India then plays with six batsmen including Dhoni.
It is also because every time they go out to bat, they are facing a tall order. On the seven occasions they chased in South Africa and New Zealand, they failed on five occasions with a tie in Auckland (one washout).
Chasing a tall total puts pressure on the openers for a good start, and if that is not obtained thereafter, it heaps even more of it on the middle-order.
The partnerships between Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma in the six (Virat Kohli opened once with Sharma) matches they opened together on those two tours were 14, 10, 15, 22, 64 and 8.
While the series in South Africa was too short for any batsman to make an impact, in New Zealand Dhoni and Kohli contributed at different times from the middle order.
Yuvraj Singh was not part of the latter tour and Ajinkya Rahane got a long run. He scored 7, 36, 3, 3 and 2. Ambati Rayudu was given two chances when Suresh Raina was dropped there, and he scored 37 and 20.
The Rahane/Rayudu/Raina conundrum is an interesting one.
Raina has been shifted up and down the order since the 2013-14 home season and his form has suffered. He was dropped for the Asia Cup in Bangladesh. Now he returns again after an indifferent IPL season and an unspectacular tour to Bangladesh again.
Against Middlesex, where 11 batsmen were tried, Raina came in to bat last, after Jadeja, Ashwin, Samson and Karn Sharma, in order to gain practice during the death overs.
It backfired as he was stumped cheaply but the intention was clear. Rayudu meanwhile scored 72 runs.
For England, this series bears similarity to the Tests because they were beaten by Sri Lanka prior and now have to turn it around against India. Like everyone else, they too have the World Cup rider attached to it, more so because this is their final outing at home before the big tournament.
Keeping this in mind, there have been certain changes to the squad that played against Lanka. Dropping Ravi Bopara has come as a surprise, while Tim Bresnan and Michael Carberry have also been left out.
Steve Finn fills in for Stuart Broad who will undergo his long pending knee surgery. Most notable is the inclusion of Alex Hales, who will now open the innings with skipper Alastair Cook and provide an explosive option at the top, as Ian Bell will slide down the order.
Hales, Bell, Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler retain enough fire-power to trouble the Indian bowling attack. Will Dhoni ? and the Indian think-tank ? persist with their bowl-first strategy seen in ODIs outside the sub-continent?