Their last three defeats to teams ranked higher than them or just under them have been to England and New Zealand in the World Cup and now to Australia.
THE PROBLEM AREA
What does it suggest? Does it mean that they play dominating cricket against teams like West Indies and Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and struggle to take the step up against superior opponent? Since their loss to New Zealand in the semi-final of the World Cup in Manchester, their only opponents in 50-over cricket, were West Indies, both home and away. Otherwise, they have only been playing Tests and T20s. A contest against a full strength Australian side probably needed a stiffer test.
AUSSIES MORE BATTLE-READY
Let’s face it, India were caught off guard against an opponent who had most players battle-ready despite not featuring in an ODI since July 11, 2019, the semi-final of the World Cup, against England. Australia had a gruelling Ashes tour followed by a home series against Pakistan and New Zealand. The batsmen were in form and the bowlers were match-fit having had many miles in their legs. If you see the pitch map of the Australian pacers Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Kane Richardson, you would realise that they hardly gave anything to drive to the Indians.
INDIAN BOWLERS RUSTY
India fielded Jasprit Bumrah, who was playing in an ODI for the first time after India’s semifinal defeat to New Zealand in July. He was curiously pulled out of the Ranji Trophy clash for Gujarat against Kerala after his back-injury induced hiatus post hectic parleys between him, the selectors and the BCCI president, Sourav Ganguly. While the bowler had two decent outings against Sri Lanka in the T20 series, bowling four overs in four spells or two is not the same as bowling for a sustained period against quality batsmen who are coming after you. The Gujarat pacer looked rusty and was guilty of giving away too many drive balls to David Warner and Aaron Finch, who pounced on the offerings.
IPL NEGATES HOME ADVANTAGE
Who are the foreigners that usually dazzle in the Indian Premier League? West Indians and Australians. Finch, Warner, Steve Smith, Cummins, Starc, Turner have all played in the IPL with Finch, Warner and Smith being top performers for their franchises. That has neutralised the advantage that a home team has at a venue. Warner, in fact, plays for Sunrisers Hyderabad, in Uppal, where the wicket is slow. The control he showed on Tuesday, is a result of some of the work, he has done in the IPL facing bowlers like Rashid Khan in the nets. Earlier, he used to play a lot of cross-batted swipes against spin, on Tuesday, he batted a lot in the V.
WORLD CUP FIASCO BEING REPEATED?
India suffered in the World Cup because of an unstable middle-order and an inability to identify with a stable No.4. They are still sailing in the same boat. With Dhawan getting back to full fitness and Rohit Sharma available again and Rahul in top form, India had a dilemma and by falling into a trap pleasing all three openers, Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Rahul. It meant taking away the freedom with which they play usually as any failure will be cited as a reason to get rid of one of them. And Dhawan is the player whose spot is most vulnerable. Normally, compulsive attacking players, their pusillanimity allowed spinners Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar to settle down. Dhawan’s 74 came off 91 balls but he played 56 dots. Rahul’s 47 off 61 balls included 28 dots.
KOHLI AT NO. 4 NOT WORKING
Including both Rahul and Dhawan meant Kohli dropping down to No. 4, a position in which he has scored seven hundreds and averages over 55, but has not made over 16 since 2014. In fact, his last five outings at No. 4 before the 16 at Mumbai have been 7, 12, 11, 3 not out, 4 and 9 and leaving out one off Kedar Jadhav, a useful sixth bowling option and a street smart cricketer at No. 6 or Manish Pandey, who has been wasted and not played since the Asia Cup in September 2018. It also meant Iyer, who has done so well at No. 4 in the previous series, had to bat out of position and under pressure. Iyer and Rishabh Pant have rarely been in situations that the team found itself in on Tuesday against an attack as skilful as Australia’s. Iyer was softened up by Starc and then given a length ball which he nicked off. Pant too did not show much spunk while being confronted by hostile pace and again flattered to deceive. How many more chances will they get?
NO TIME TO PANIC
“I should be allowed to experiment,” the skipper said after the game when asked if he will keep batting at No.4. “I think people need to relax and not panic with one game, I’m allowed to experiment a little bit and fail as well at times,” he added. Agreed, an ODI defeat in a bilateral series should not make the fans and the pundits go back to the Match Ka Mujrim mode where tasteless accusatory barbs were hurled by the fans and former players at the team, but the manner of the pounding does merit asking questions whether it suits a team that is ranked No. 2 on the ICC table. It could very well be a one-off and India could bounce back in style at Rajkot and Bengaluru. But they are in for a scrap.
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