The story of the third ODI at Auckland was no different from the script of the first two games at Napier and Hamilton. At both venues, India needed to chase an identical target of 293 runs. The only difference in Hamilton was that India had only 41.3 overs by D/L method to reach the target, as rain played spoilsport. The target at Auckland was a tad stiffer, as India were required to chase 315, but like in the earlier two ODI’s the topline batsman disappointed. In Auckland, even the dependable Virat Kohli fell early. In a way, therefore, India were in a worse situation, until Dhoni and Ashwin came together to mend the losses. Ashwin came at the fall of Raina’s wicket, and with his skipper, produced a 50-run partnership. Dhoni was the sixth wicket to fall and India still required 131 runs in 86 balls. But Ashwin and Jadeja rallied India from a position of hopelessness to a point, from where they could have even won the game.

JadejaIn a superlative performance towards the innings’ end, Ravindra Jadeja, single-handedly brought the game to a great finish. After 9 wickets had fallen, India still needed 29 runs from the 13 balls but Jadeja kept his cool and almost won the game for India. Fielding lapses, a dropped chance and few wide-balls in closing stages, helped Jadeja, when he faced Corey Anderson’s last over. But 18 runs were still required. Jadeja pulled the first ball to four and earned a wide from the next delivery by tactfully moving away. Two dot balls followed and there were sighs in the Indian camp. The next ball was an attempted yorker, sprayed on the leg side. It was called a wide as well. Now 12 runs were required from the last three balls. Jadeja produced a flick to the fence off the next, to make it 8 from the last two. Anderson couldn’t check Jadeja, who hit the next ball for a flattish 6. Now India needed just 2 from the last ball. Jadeja forced the ball to the covers and ran quite a comfortable single. It is inexplicable why he didn’t attempt the second run, since there was nothing to lose, even if one of the batsmen was run out. In any case, it was a great finish, despite yet another mediocre performance by India’s top order batsmen.

Interestingly, India reclaimed their top ODI ranking yesterday, when Australia lost to England in the fourth ODI. But India’s performance in the last few ODI’s has not been forceful. Today when they took the field, after winning the toss, their bowling weakness was thoroughly exploited by New Zealanders yet again. Except Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, who gave away 94 runs in their combined 20 overs, every other India bowler was mauled mercilessly. The frontline bowlers; Bhuvi Kumar, Mohd Shami and Varun Aaron, together yielded 184 runs in their 26 overs. However, it will be improper to take the credit away from Guptill (111) and Williamson (65), who were involved in a 153-run second wicket partnership. In addition Ronchi repeated his last ODI cameo, this time scoring 38 off 20 and Southee also chipped in with a 23-ball 27, with three sixes. Corey Anderson couldn’t get among the runs today, but he excelled with the ball to take 5 wickets. He first removed both openers, and then accounted for Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni and Mohd. Shami.

India needs to seriously consider revising their strategic planning on cricket. Despite having been proved wrong on many recent occasions, Mahendra Singh Dhoni continues to believe in chasing the score, rather than setting targets for the opponents. Of course, he has some examples from past history to back his decision. But cricket situations keep changing. Someone said winning is a habit and once you start winning, the streak continues for a while. But so is losing. You lose at the start and the losses start chasing you. This is precisely what has been happening to Indian cricket since their South African tour. But even when they were winning at home, they still had the problem of a weak bowling attack. If your bowling is weak, there is only one outcome, when you take the field first. You allow the opposition to pile up huge scores and even ordinary batsmen can score against you without fear. After a great total has been mounted, thanks to sub-par bowling, your batsmen, who will come out to chase the score will begin in a way, vastly different from a situation, in which you bat first and set a target. To be expecting the team to score 300+ runs in every chase is asking too much. You have to understand your batsmen have been in the field, probably with the sun also shining brightly. If the opposition is piling up big scores, fielders get tired, not just by working in the field but also with a burden of scoring daunting totals, if the bowling has been wayward. Dhoni and his coach cannot deny the fact that the demoralizing effect of poor bowling is closely related to India’s poor batting performance in the last 10 ODI games. Since you cannot change your bowlers in the middle of an overseas tour, at least let your batsmen bat freely.