An interesting road ahead

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09 Dec 2020 | 02:05 PM
authorSomesh Agarwal

An interesting road ahead

What we learnt about the Indian team from the white-ball leg of their Australia tour and what are the lessons they can take forward

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3-3 in the white-ball leg is a good result. Especially after India received an absolute thumping in the first two ODIs. With a 2-1 victory in the T20I series, India ended 2020 with just one loss in the calendar year, the best for any team in the format.

On the other hand, India have won only three of the six ODIs they played this year. At one point, they lost five ODIs in a row. It will be selective reading if we choose to bask in the success of one format while not pondering on the deficiencies of the other, and vice versa.

The failure in ODIs came against the same opposition India enjoyed success against. Absence of key players cannot be an argument as well as injuries will come unannounced – like what India experienced with Shikhar Dhawan at the 2019 World Cup. And teams need to be prepared for alternatives on big occasions.

Living 300 in the 350 age

Played with the same ball, we tend to assess T20s and ODIs together. But, there is a world of difference between the two. With a lesser number of overs, individual brilliance influences the results in T20s a lot more. We witnessed this with Ravindra Jadeja in the first T20I and Hardik Pandya in the second who lifted India with the bat from unfavourable situations. 

As opposed to T20s, the ODIs need a comprehensive team effort on most occasions. Especially in the age of cricket when 350 is a par score at times. Reaching 350 consistently requires a batting template with roles of aggressors and ultra-aggressors interspersed in the batting order.   

Currently, India is playing an outdated brand of ODI cricket. The mindset continues to be that of a decade earlier - keeping wickets in hand and then attack only in the last 10 overs. This approach is so ingrained in the batsmen that they are not able to alter it even in the time of need.

In the second ODI, India were chasing 390. With players like Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul at the crease, India scored 158 runs in overs 11 to 35 – a touch more than run-a-ball but nowhere near par for the course. While it was their bowlers who let them down in the first two ODIs, delaying the acceleration did not let India stand a chance. 

The 2011 World Cup, held in the subcontinent, saw runs scored and chased in excess of 330. Twelve years later when the tournament will return there, this benchmark will be 350. For India to compete with teams like England, their top-four need to demonstrate the ultra-aggressor quality and not leave the batsmen to follow to do all the heavy lifting. 

Hardik and Jadeja are irreplaceable

In many experts’ eyes, Hardik and Jadeja have always come with an asterisk sign in the team sheet. Will Hardik add value if he does not bowl? Can Jadeja be trusted as a number seven?

The white-ball leg of the tour of Australia has given us the answers. It is a yes to both. Bowling or not, Hardik is one of the cleanest ball-strikers in the world which makes him a rare breed in the country. On this tour, there was maturity mixed with aggression which speaks volumes of his evolution as a batsman. The Iyers, Pandeys, Samsons and Pants have looked half the match-winners in their international career so far compared to Hardik during the current series. 

Having learnt the value of his wicket, Jadeja has taken strides as a batsman in the last few years. From what we have seen, he is now a perfect number seven for India in ODIs and can be promoted in T20Is based on match-ups. No other allrounder in the country comes close to creating an impact in all three departments as much as Jadeja can. Based on what we saw on this tour, Hardik and Jadeja should be one of the first names in India’s XI in both white-ball formats for some time. 

Whenever Hardik is ready to bowl India will not face the issue of the lack of a sixth bowler. Moreover, with him at six and Jadeja at seven, India can afford to play both the wristspinners – ‘Kulcha’ as the pair is known – to go back to the strategy that worked well for them in the past. This tactic can work well on conducive wickets in the subcontinent.

There is a shift in pacer dynamics

For the first two ODIs, India’s attack seemed one-dimensional. The three pacers fielded where all quick right-armers relying on seam movement and help from the wicket. Things improved for India in the third ODI when they fielded two pacers with a different set of skills. T Natarajan brought in the left-arm angle to start with while Shardul Thakur knows a trick or two about different slower balls.

A decade and a half ago, India was a hub of left-arm pacers. For the past few years, there has not been anyone who looked the part to compete in international cricket. The emergence of Natarajan will help India add this weapon to their armoury. He has charmed everyone in cricket circles with his story and simplicity. He has also demonstrated the ability to learn new skills quickly. Earning a name for himself by being a yorker specialist, he took wickets with bouncers and cutters in the series. While his yorker still remained lethal. 

Along with Natarajan, Thakur impressed on the tour as well. He used his cross-seamers and knuckleballs well to be effective even on flat pitches. From India’s perspective, we can see clusters forming for bowlers. 

Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Navdeep Saini have raw pace and rely on seam movement. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Deepak Chahar are the swing specialists. The skills of Thakur sort of overlap with these two as Bhuvneshwar bowls knuckleballs himself. The find of the tour for India – Natarajan – stands alone in a separate cluster all by himself. While choosing the right combination in future games, India need to ensure that a particular cluster does not dominate which will help them ensure that the attack is multi-dimensional. 

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Hardik Himanshu PandyaRavindrasinh Anirudhsinh JadejaThangarasu NatarajanShardul Narendra ThakurIndia tour of Australia, 2020/21

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