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Shackled by spin, India need to adapt and respond

Last updated on 17 Jul 2023 | 12:20 PM
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Shackled by spin, India need to adapt and respond

The Indian batting lineup has struggled to put up a cohesive performance throughout the Bangladesh tour

Sunday’s match between India and Bangladesh in Dhaka was historic for the hosts as they defeated their western neighbors for the first time in ODI history. 

Chasing a paltry 153 to win, the Indian batters never really got going. Most of them got starts (seven batters registered double digit scores), but none of them really bothered to stay in. Deepti Sharma’s 20 being the highest score was just an extension of that.

But, for a side having Pooja Vastrakar coming in at #10 to not be able to chase 153 in 44 overs does raise a few questions about their application. There has been an increased consensus that Indian batters tend to struggle against spin, and such a performance only exacerbates it further. 

While a lot of the talk has rightly been around the treacherous pitches on offer in Bangladesh, skipper Harmanpreet Kaur will be the first one to admit that is no excuse for such a performance. 

“Obviously, in the batting department, nobody took responsibility,” is all she could say while talking about the batting performance in the post match presentation. 

Playing an ODI after nearly 300 days, another striking characteristic was the number of changes in the side. It almost seemed like a completely different XI. Deepti Sharma, Harmanpreet, Vastrakar and Smriti Mandhana were the only ones to feature in both XIs. 

The extent of deterioration seen in the wicket during the T20Is could have probably forced India to pack their side with more batting options. Understandable, considering how conducive Dhaka was to spin bowling in the 20-over games.

But, their dismissals did seem to follow a pattern. In the T20Is, both teams' batters lost plenty of wickets to spin in a bid to try and up the ante. They would either step down the track or try and reach for the ball, only to be beaten by the slowness of the Dhaka surface. 

Bangladeshi batters changed their style in the third T20I, where they played more off the backfoot and deployed the sweep only when the ball was full enough. The result was there for everyone to see. Shamima Sultana, in particular, used this to great effect during her POTM performance in the third game. 

Agreed, a sub-par target allowed her to play that way in a T20I. But, with 50 overs available to pace your innings, this was as good a template as any, to be followed in the ODIs.

It seemed like India tried to over compensate for the aggression they showed in the T20I series, as they got into a rut in the first ODI on Sunday (July 16th). Priya Punia crawled her way to 10, and got out to the first aggressive shot she played. Ditto was the case with Jemimah Rodrigues. And the skipper got out missing a straightforward prod to Nahida Akter.  

The scorecard does reflect a lack of strokeplay, and some of the criticism is warranted. There's no other way a batting lineup scores at under 3 RPO after having played 28 overs of spin. 

So, would it be fair to say that Indian batters struggle against spin?

The numbers say otherwise. Since 2020, Indian batters have gone at a more-than-decent 4.6 RPO against spin. The subsequent number against pace, for context, is 5 RPO. They’ve done this while losing a wicket every 39.5 balls to pace, and every 43.5 balls to spin. What this says is that India tends to be a lot more aggressive against pace, and this has also resulted in more wickets lost. 

Then, why does the general perception that 'India can’t handle spin' exist?

Well, you have to look no further than India’s numero uno. Mandhana’s struggles against spin in T20s are well documented - given the team’s dependency on her, it’s no surprise that India's fate seems to be hugely dependent on how they play spin. 

In 2023, Mandhana averages below 20 and has lost a wicket to spin every 15 balls. The corresponding numbers against pace stand at 56 and 45.

But, it wouldn't be fair to paint the entire lineup with the same brush. In the last couple of years, India have the third best run-rate and the second best average while playing spin in ODIs. 

Their struggles have further been exacerbated by the fact that they are playing in Bangladesh, a place that is notorious for being spin friendly. Since 2022, batters have scored at 3.1 RPO in ODIs played in Bangladesh, the poorest for any country and an entire run less than the next worst (West Indies at 4.1 RPO). 

Another issue has been their reliance on Harmanpreet and Mandhana. The duo account for 14 of the 29 fifties scored by Indian batters in the last 18 months. What's even more staggering is the fact that Mithali Raj ranks third in the list, despite having been retired for 15 months. 

Not that there haven’t been issues with the selection, but, more than anything, the problem has been none of India's batters have been amongst the runs. Barring the skipper, no one has averaged over 20 during this tour. So far, the highest score by an Indian batter in this series has been 54* by Harmanpreet in the first T20I - which is also the only 50+ score for the side.

Before we jump to conclusions, it's important to highlight that three T20Is and a solitary ODI is too small a sample size. All of us would be better off waiting for the remaining two ODIs to play out, to get a clearer picture on how deep-rooted the issue against spin is. Looking ahead, the final two games present the Indian batters with an opportunity to learn and respond.

With all these matches being played under the ICC Women’s Championship, there’s a lot more at stake for Bangladesh than just a bilateral series. Indian batters will have to bring their A-game to come out of this series a few runs and a couple of victories richer. 

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