The 2-1 series defeat in Bangladesh is now in the past, with India doing many things right in Guwahati to hammer Sri Lanka by 67 runs in the first One-Day International of the three-match series. Virat Kohli slammed his second consecutive hundred in this format, while the likes of Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul all got quick runs. All of them scored at a strike rate of more than 110.
Mohammed Siraj and Umran Malik were also amongst wickets, but there are still some grey areas in the bowling department. Mohammed Shami was expensive, while Axar Patel and Yuzvendra Chahal picked up just one wicket between them. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s defeat would have looked a lot more embarrassing if not for their skipper Dasun Shanaka’s century. The Islanders will have to be a lot more disciplined if they want to level the series in Kolkata on Thursday (January 12).
Is Kohli back to his absolute best?
There is no doubt that ODI is Kohli’s best format. The batting maestro has been a beast in this format ever since making his debut in 2008. 12584 runs in 257 innings at an average of 57.72 and a strike rate of 93.25, studded with 45 centuries and 64 fifties - those are GOAT numbers. However, there was a dip in form in 2022 but the 34-year-old seems to have found his mojo back with back-to-back hundreds and this will serve India well ahead of this year’s World Cup at home.
Kohli, who amassed over 5000 runs at an insane average of 75.18 between 2016 to 2021, operated at an average of just 27.45 in 2022. And if you take out that 113 in the last ODI against Bangladesh, the right-handed batter had an average of 18.9 and a strike rate of just 73.8. However, a lot had changed in the last two ODIs. Ishan Kishan rightly stole all the limelight with his double century in the third ODI against Bangladesh but the Guwahati game was all about Kohli.
"The one thing I learnt was desperation doesn't get you anywhere. The game still remains very simple. It's when we start complicating things with our own attachments, our own desires, our own attachment to who we become from people's point of view, not who we were when we picked up the bat or the ball when we started playing. I think when that perspective goes off, you start putting yourself in a space where everything just keeps spiralling downwards," said Kohli after the first ODI.
The crowd at Barsapara Cricket Stadium got to witness a vintage Kohli special. He scored 54 runs via boundaries, while the rest of the 59 runs came through ones and twos. He crafted 113 off 87 deliveries, smoking seamers all around the park, while frustrating spinners with strike rotation and occasional boundaries. This is the version of Kohli India need in the 2023 World Cup. No international hundred for 1020 days and then three in the space of five months, maybe the King is well and truly back.
Indian bowlers struggle against Nos. 5-9 batters
"We started off well with the bat, it was a great effort from all batters. I thought we could've bowled slightly better, but don't want to be too critical of it although the dew was not so much.” Indian skipper Rohit didn’t shy away from accepting that India could have finished this match a lot earlier. They had a massive total on the board and then reduced Sri Lanka to 179/7 before the end of 33 overs. However, Sri Lanka went on to add 127 runs more and didn’t even get all out, with Shanaka smashing 108* off 88 deliveries.
India have struggled to take wickets in the powerplay in the past but that hasn’t been the case since 2022, largely because of Siraj. In ODIs since 2022, India have the third-best average (25.9) in the first 10 overs and the best average (27.9) and balls/wicket (33.2) in middle overs. But when it comes to the final 10 overs, the Men in Blue have the worst average (33.3) and strike rate (27). Something similar happened in Bangladesh as well. India reduced them to 136/9 in the first ODI and 69/6 in the second but then allowed the likes of Mehidy Hasan Miraz and Mahmudullah to steal both those games away from them.
In fact, this has been happening for a while. We all know what Rassie van der Dussen did at the start of 2022, and then that 145* by Tom Latham in Auckland. Sikandar Raza almost won Zimbabwe a game, while Heinrich Klaasen, Nicholas Pooran, David Miller, Mehidy, and a few others have also enjoyed batting against India. One thing common between all these players is that none of them bat in the top-four.
India's average of 26.8 and strike rate of 32.5 against top-four batters are the best amongst the top-10 ranked sides, but the same can't be said about their numbers against Nos. 5-9 batters. They have an average of 36.1 and a strike rate of 36.9 against batters who bat from positions 5 to 9 and those numbers are clearly the worst amongst the top-10 ranked nations. So, how do India resolve this issue? Of course, they will need more wickets from their spinners, but India could also try Arshdeep Singh in place of Shami. The young left-arm seamer is an all-phase bowler and will bring more value to the team than Shami.
Sri Lankan bowlers need to step up
It will be interesting to see how the Sri Lankan bowling unit responds in Kolkata after leaking 373 runs in the first ODI. Not a single bowler operated at an economy of less than 6.5, with Kasun Rajitha (3/88) being the most expensive. In fact, Sri Lankan pacers have the worst economy (6.3) in ODIs since 2022. Sri Lanka have the second-worst average (45.7) and balls/wicket (55.4) in the powerplay since 2022, and don’t really have a proven pacer in their squad who they could turn to.
Hence, their spinners will have to take on more responsibilities. Wanindu Hasaranga has a stunning record in T20Is but his numbers in ODIs aren't great at all - 39 wickets at an average of 36.51 and a strike rate of 42.64. Maheesh Theekshana didn’t feature in the first ODI but he is someone who can give Sri Lanka those economical spells and that would allow Hasaranga to attack even more.
India - Rohit Sharma (c), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul (wk), Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Mohammed Shami/Arshdeep Singh, Umran Malik, Mohammed Siraj, Yuzvendra Chahal.
Sri Lanka - Pathum Nissanka, Avishka Fernando, Kusal Mendis (wk), Dhananjaya de Silva, Charith Asalanka, Dasun Shanaka (c), Wanindu Hasaranga, Chamika Karunaratne, Dunith Wellalage/Maheesh Theekshana, Kasun Rajitha/Lahiru Kumara, Dilshan Madushanka.