An ebullient Ravichandran Ashwin, after scoring a match ‘saving’ half-century against New Zealand in the 3rd ODI at Auckland, opined that India’s fight to tie a match that seemed well out of their control halfway through the chase was indicative of a subtle turn of the tides in the visitors’ favour.
Ashwin’s comment, though accurately depictive of a temporary moratorium in India’s slide down the barrel in New Zealand, cannot be taken at face value primarily because of the troubles festering at the heart of the Indian team at present. The fate of India’s fight to keep their fast slipping numero uno status in ODIs shall be dependent on the outcome of the two upcoming one-dayers, both of which must be won by the visitors to keep Australia’s growing impact on the coveted top spot at bay for the moment.
One of the most startling features of all the ODIs played in this series so far has been Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s reluctance to bat first, even on tracks that are notorious for slowing down as the matches progress. The Indian captain’s tendency to opt for chasing, even after winning the tosses, gains credibility in the face of the fact that the Indian bowling seems woefully ill-equipped to handle the pressure in the death overs – a deficiency which, Dhoni fears, might cost the team heavily while bowling in the second innings.
However, it ought to be said that India’s chances of levelling the series cannot be lopsidedly kept dependant on the batsmen’s ability to act as a sponge for the indiscipline that the bowlers have been consistently displaying in all the previous ODIs of this series.
Unlike the last three venues, the Hamilton track has traditionally been known for its tendency to slow down drastically in the second innings; a fact that the Indian captain might like to ponder upon before opting to chase yet again, in case he is lucky enough to win a fourth consecutive toss.
India’s batting performance in the last three games has been eccentric, to say the least. While one section of the batting steps up to the occasion, the other inevitably fails and splashes cold water on the hard earned initiative of the former. The openers have had fidgety starts every now and then but have nevertheless been expressly unable to convert them into big ones. This has been one of the most serious reasons responsible for most of the problems that have crept up in India’s otherwise strong batting line up in the last few days.
Suresh Raina’s run drought has continued merrily, undaunted by the fear of a probable exclusion from the team in the near future. The late surge from Dhoni, Ashwin and Jadeja may have miraculously saved the 3rd ODI for the visitors, but the batting needs to click as a whole if India hopes to get back the top spot at the end of this series.
The foundation for the problems in the Indian batting have been laid with startling alacrity by the shaky bowling unit which seems to have been completely knocked out of rhythm by Kane Williamson and Co. While Ashwin and Jadeja have contained the hard hitting Kiwis to some extent, their lack of wicket-taking abilities on the foreign tracks has compounded the woes of the quicks who have conceded runs gleefully at all stages of the innings.
None of the quicks, except Bhuvneshwar Kumar at the very start of the innings, have been able to thwart the run-rate of the Kiwis who seem to have discovered more than a thousand ways to exploit the thin bowling resources of the visitors at every stage of the match. The Indian death bowling hasn’t been praiseworthy either; for even though the Kiwis have lost wickets in a heap towards the end, most of them have come about as unforced errors committed by the batsmen in the absence of any special efforts from the Indian bowlers.
Not only do the Indians need to keep the hosts on a tight leash for the first 35 overs of the innings, they also need to ensure that spineless bowling in the death overs does not result in killing India’s chances.
While New Zealand have had their own share of problems in skipper Brendon McCullum’s horrible run of form and their bowlers’ inability to put a noose around the Indian batsmen towards the end, they ought to be the happier of the two teams leading into the next two games. The work is cut out for the visitors who must make amends for the howlers committed in the last three games or risk welcoming the ignominy of yet another overseas series defeat.