When Australia toured India for the 7 match ODI series and 1 T20 game in October-November 2013, India’s performance was lauded by cricket pundits and the Australians were treated as underdogs. However, it did not present the true picture of India’s real stature as an ODI nation. Victories in the T20 game followed by the series win in the ODIs camouflaged the fact that India had an utterly poor bowling strength. There was not a single Indian bowler, who could pose any threat to the Australian batting. The entire series was a tale of big scores by batsmen on either side. Even in defeat, the Australian batsmen were not found wanting, and their superb batting was ably matched by the Indian trio of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli with MS Dhoni chipping in, once in a while. In just five ODIs, where play was possible, India and Australia together amassed nearly 3300 runs.
The India-Australia series was immediately followed by the arrival of one of the weakest teams from the West Indies, who played 2 test matches and 3 ODIs. Despite a loss in second ODI at Vishakhapatnam, India’s awesome batting trio continued to demonstrate their superiority. Once again the thought of mending India’s bowling strength was consigned to the sidelines by selectors, since the batting strength alone achieved positive results for India.
When India’s batting collapsed during their South African tour, the weakness in the bowling department came to the fore. No country can ever depend on its batsmen alone, for much too long, because even by the law of averages, sometimes the batsmen cannot come good every time. In the second test at Durban, Robin Peterson and Faf du Plessis literally tore the Indian bowling apart in a brief display of forceful batting. In the ODI series too, the complete failure of India’s batsmen resulted in a 3-0 drubbing and since the bowling was weak anyway, South Africa completely outplayed India.
In the ongoing ODI series in New Zealand, it is the bowling weakness again, which is costing India dear. Except Virat Kohli, no other Indian batsman is playing with purpose. The scripts of the first two ODI’s were nearly similar, where India could not successfully chase the targets set for them. And in both Napier and Hamilton, unimaginative bowling by India has allowed New Zealand to score at will. Since the top order Indian batsmen are not coming to the rescue of sub-par bowling, India is repeatedly falling short of the targets.
Beginning with the losses in South Africa, the defeat in the second ODI at Hamilton has pushed India down from its top position in the ODIs. In the second match played on January 22, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor scored fifties with Corey Anderson nearly blasted the fastest ODI fifty too. The D/L method made the target stiffer for India. Kohli and Dhoni tried holding on, just as they did at Napier. In the Hamilton game, even Suresh Raina scored some runs but once the wickets started falling, the New Zealand victory became inevitable.
It is time for the Indians to rejuvenate themselves. Dependence on batting alone will not take them near the top once again, though the recent failure of its top order is a cause for concern too. Most importantly, the captain and coach must bring in some sanity to the bowlers minds. Though Shami is able to take wickets, he is conceding too many runs. Ishant Sharma’s short-pitched stuff is god-send offer to the likes of Corey Anderson and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar is almost a ghost of his original self. On the batting side, Dhawan and Rohit should soon find their old touch. If such measures are not taken, India may slump further in ODI ranking.
After the second ODI at Hamilton, India have slipped to the second place behind South Africa. Australia is tantalizingly close at the third spot and the way they are playing against England at home, they will soon replace India as the second best ODI nation.