Akshar Patel impressed MS Dhoni in his first international outing © Getty Images
Akshar Patel impressed MS Dhoni in his first international outing © Getty Images

By Chetan Narula

Brisbane: Jan 19, 2015

Jolted by the opening loss to Australia, India would look to plug the bowling loopholes and ensure a stronger batting display when they take on England in their second One-Day International (ODI) tri-series match at Brisbane on Tuesday.

In Brisbane, both sides will be looking to register their first win in this tournament with the hosts having stolen a march on them with two successive wins. Australia beat England by three wickets in Sydney on Friday and then beat India by four wickets in Melbourne on Sunday.

They took a bonus point from the first game as well and sit pretty on nine points from two games. In this series, billed as the dress rehearsal for the upcoming ODI World Cup, these two sides will be keen to get a win under their belt.

India can take some solace from their match against Australia in the sense that they pushed the hosts a lot closer. By their own admission, the Australian batsmen were going for that bonus point against England and thus lost quick wickets in the middle order. The repeated mini-collapse against the Indian bowling was no such fluke.

Two bowlers played a key role in squeezing the run-rate, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Akshar Patel. It was quite a positive for the Indian team, reeling under the inconsistency shown by their attack in the preceding Test series.

They missed the medium-pacer in the first three Tests and when he returned in Sydney, he was way off-colour, down on pace and lacking in match fitness.

A five-day rest since and lot more bowling in the nets has done him good. Sunday’s performance should be another boost for him to return to form for the Men in Blue need him to work his magic with the new ball in the next two months.

In only his first international outing in Australia, the young left-arm spinner Akshar impressed with his control as skipper MS Dhoni even opted to hold back a few of his overs and bring Patel back later during the end overs of the chase.

Later the Indian skipper even talked about the possibility of Patel becoming his prime choice in the death overs, if he persists with this same consistency in his bowling. That was a big vote of confidence in Patel’s abilities.

Even so, the underlying word here is consistency which is a certain weak-point with India’s bowling in recent times. This is where Tuesday’s game assumes significance. Coming quickly on the heels of their Sunday outing, Indian bowlers — in particular Kumar and Patel — will be under the spotlight.

A similar bowling performance will be expected from the duo and if they are able to deliver on their promise, then it will be a huge step forward for this attack seeing as Ravichandran Ashwin had an off-day in Melbourne. Dhoni will also be looking for consistency from Rohit Sharma. He batted with much calm amid wickets falling at the other end and looked keen to make his start count.

More importantly, he was prepared to run hard between the wickets and rotate the strike, a trait previously missing in his batting in overseas ODIs last year. If he continues to do the same, then the debate over his opening position in favour of Ajinkya Rahane will be a thing of the past. However, that topic could restart at the other end if Shikhar Dhawan too doesn’t start scoring. It is too early to comment on his failure in Melbourne.

But with a new-look batting order, with Rahane at three and Virat Kohli at four, they need to click in unison to take pressure off the middle order, especially with Dhoni coming in at number six. In the absence of Ravindra Jadeja, the onus of big-hitting in the end overs lies squarely on the skipper’s broad shoulders. Early wickets for few runs, as in Melbourne, won’t help his case and also won’t make the five-bowler strategy work.

In the last couple of years, India’s ODI record against England has been quite good. Since the 2011 tour when they didn’t win a single game, the Men in Blue have recorded 12 wins in 15 matches, four of them coming in England (one in 2013 and three in 2014).