Searching for the right lengths with the new ball, fielders putting down catches in the outfield and batsmen unable to cope with short-pitched deliveries. For a while, it seemed like it was Team India from a different era or the first ODI was a warm-up game instead.
It is not easy to switch formats, let alone in conditions 180 degrees opposite to those during the Indian Premier League. The same bowlers were getting assistance from the pitch on length deliveries a fortnight ago. In Sydney, they needed to be fuller with the new-ball to get some early assistance on a batting paradise.
It is difficult to name one fielder in India’s XI who did not fumble during the first innings. By the 40th over of the Australian innings, the commentators from the host broadcaster chuckled away at the fact that ‘the wheels are coming off’ for India. When the Australian fielders returned the favour in the second innings, it felt like there was something else at play, hampering the vision of the deep fielders.
When they came out to bat with a mountain to climb, Indian batsmen seemed to be in a hurry. It looked like game-on for a while, but the Aussie bowlers pulled it back with a perennial shortcoming of subcontinental batsmen (except Rohit Sharma of course): the short ball.
Ahead of the series, India played some intra-squad games for preparation. This loss highlights the importance of warm-up games once again. Even if the opposition puts out a second or a third XI, it is better to play against a team that understands the conditions and thus can put up a better fight. There have been numerous examples in the past when India have bounced back during World Cups after players of the stature of Sachin Tendulkar found rhythm against teams like Kenya and Namibia.
Luxury is not mandatory
“We have to accept that and work around”, remarked Virat Kohli after the loss on the question of the absence of a sixth bowling option. In sports, one looks for reasons for the loss within themselves even while accepting that the opposition had answers to everything thrown at them. Such self-assessment is important for growth but can lead to inaccurate insights. The lack of a sixth bowling option is one such thing.
Even with Hardik Pandya not bowling, India have five proper bowlers to bowl the fifty overs. This was something that India desired so much during the successful and almost-successful World Cup campaigns in 2011 and 2003 respectively. Having five regular bowlers was a luxury then. The categorization of this luxury has now broadened to having a sixth option.
But one needs to ask what a sixth bowler could provide when the opposition puts on a 150-run opening stand and none of the regular bowlers make an impact. As opposed to India having five regular bowlers, the Australians themselves played just four with two others being part-timers, one of whom had no answers to the wrath of Hardik Pandya and Shikhar Dhawan.
Looking at the options available in the domestic circuit, players like Vijay Shankar and Shivam Dube currently cannot make the cut on even one aspect of the game, let alone filling the all-rounder’s spot. For now, as the captain suggested, India need to do with what they have while hoping that Hardik will soon be able to provide the luxury of the sixth option.
Lessons from the loss
Hardik’s 90 in the first ODI was the highest score by an Indian batsman batting at number six in ODIs in Australia. He equalled or bettered the highest score of players like Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina Down Under.
His mature approach and the ability to tackle all bowling-types should put to rest all questions around him playing as a batsman alone. While India have a plethora of batsmen of the nudge and nurdle type, there aren’t enough Hardik Pandyas. He is the sort of batsman that India need if they wish to collect trophies in the near future.
Along with him, Dhawan too did his job well as he often does. If only, either of Mayank Agarwal or Kohli chose to ignore the short ball and attack later, India could have given a tougher fight. The story is different for Shreyas Iyer who will know that a bouncer barrage awaits him.
On the bowling front, there was a consensus that Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Navdeep Saini should form the pace attack. However, on the day, this combination looked one-dimensional given all of them rely on pace, seam and getting purchase from the deck. With none of them well-equipped with regards to getting movement in the air, they could not probe Aaron Finch with his weakness against in-swinging deliveries. India do not have a proper swing bowler in their ODI squad, but from the trio, Shami is the one capable of moving the ball the most and should have a bigger role with the new ball.
As for Australia, it was a perfect game. They should be relieved that the first spell of three overs for 40 by Mitchell Starc – one of the few players not involved in the IPL – did not cost them much.
On the other hand, India can draw lessons from the three-match series played at their home in January this year. After a humbling 10-wicket defeat in the first ODI, they bounced back to clinch the series. However, then they had a certain Rohit Sharma in their ranks as well as conditions more suited in their favour.
If everyone is fit, there is unlikely to be a change for either side. However, Marcus Stoinis suffered a side strain during the first ODI and did not complete his seventh over. If he fails to recover, we might see a debut for Cameron Green.
Australia: Aaron Finch (c), David Warner, Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, Marcus Stoinis/ Cameron Green, Alex Carey (wk), Glenn Maxwell, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Adam Zampa
India: Shikhar Dhawan, Mayank Agarwal, Virat Kohli (c), Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Navdeep Saini, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah