"For us, the aim is to understand white-ball cricket, how to play, new guys are playing. 50 over is an extension of T20. Maybe you take less risk in ODIs as compared to T20 cricket but you have to take it,” said Indian skipper Rohit Sharma at the start of the three-match ODI series.
It was with that mindset that the Indian team went into the three-match ODI series, in their preparations for the ICC ODI World Cup. Where have India improved and where have India lacked during the series?
India finally start strong in powerplay
India’s bowling problems with the new ball was a well-documented reality. Prior to Rahul Dravid taking over the coaching role, India had only picked up 20 wickets in the powerplay, averaging a high 80, the worst-record amongst the top-ten sides in the 50-over format since the 2019 World Cup. Even the likes of Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar amidst others could not pick up early wickets for India.
That was perhaps a key area that needed immediate change for India’s fortunes. Since November 2021, India have the best average with the new ball, at 23.6, picking up 18 wickets, the most for any sides in the time period. To add to that, the Indian bowlers also have the best strike-rate in the powerplay, at 30.
Leading India’s charge have been Mohammed Siraj and Bumrah, who have picked up nine wickets in between them. In the 2-1 series win over England, India’s new-ball bowling was perhaps the biggest differentiator between the two sides. With the new ball, India averaged just 15.8, picking up nine wickets in comparison to England’s five.
Slowly yet steadily, India are tackling one of their biggest hurdles in ODI cricket – new-ball wickets.
Pandya’s all-round show puts India in strong place
India have for long years, yearned for Hardik Pandya to regain full health and play cricket at his optimal level, both with the bat and the ball. The England series has come at the right time and right place for both Hardik and the national team. Rohit Sharma has been precise with his use of Hardik in the bowling department, as a pace-enforcer.
Even in the T20I series, it was a recurrent theme of how Hardik was using the bounce on the surface to its fullest use. That theme extended to the ODI series, where he was consistently using the bouncer as a lethal weapon. All four of his wickets in the final ODI came via deliveries that were pitched the furthest away from the batters.
"I had to bend my back a bit. I had to change my plans, realised that this was not the wicket to go full, and go for the short ball, use it as a wicket-taking delivery. I fancy my bouncers. In ODIs, you have to take on the short ball and that gives a chance to take wickets,” said Hardik.
It didn’t stop there for the younger Pandya, who put on a show with the bat. The right-hander put on a 133-run partnership with Rishabh Pant, where he played the aggressive hand, scoring 71 runs off just 55 balls. This series has shown why India were and continue to be a formidable side when Hardik is around.
Struggling top-three with the bat
It is not often that we can say that India’s top three have struggled in a series. But the England series was really one where the top-order put a whole lot of pressure on the middle-order to score the runs. India’s top-three in this series only averaged 27.8, and struck at 77.7, which highlights part of the problem. However, the bigger problem has been their inability to convert starts, which has been a recurring theme in the last two years.
Virat Kohli’s struggle has been well-documented. Throwing light on that will be as inconsequential, given how the whole country is talking about it. While Kohli averages 45.6 chasing totals, his inability to convert the start into a three-figure score has often been a worrying sign for India. Now combine that struggle with Shikhar Dhawan’s. Dhawan’s last ODI century was in June 2019, and while since then, the left-hander has scores of 98 and 86*, a big score has been missing.
Especially with Rohit donning the aggressor role in the top three, with a strike-rate of 96, it is important for either of Dhawan or Kohli to take up the role of accumulating big scores. Despite the middle-order saving them in the third ODI, it is up to the top-order to regain the lost touch.
A free-flowing batting approach in middle-phase
The middle-order Troika of Hardik, Rishabh and Suryakumar Yadav are slowly changing and shaping the way India bat in the middle-overs. While the approach is inherently risky, it is perhaps the biggest differentiator when it comes to the result. In just two innings that they played, the Indian middle-order scored 304 runs, averaging 50.7 for every wicket, while striking at 91.3. In comparison, England’s middle-order only struck at 80.7 and averaged just 24.8.
As pointed out here by Shubh, Pant is an integral part of the change in approach for the Indian team in the middle-order. The left-hander scored only 10 runs off his first 20 balls, all through singles. It is the first time that Pant didn’t score a single boundary off the first 20 balls of his innings.
After 60 balls in his innings, he had only four boundaries for 42 runs. The strike-rate of 70 at this point is not a problem. Hardik Pandya’s calculated aggression in a fifth-wicket stand of 133 runs from 115 balls ensured the required rate was always in check. Hence, Pant played the second fiddle, the idea of which appeared improbable for a long time but now, it speaks for his ability to adapt.
So, this ability to adapt, knowing when to attack and when to play the second-fiddle that will definitely benefit India.