One swallow never made a summer. Similarly, a defeat at the hands of England in the second ODI at Lord’s cannot wipe out all the good work of the Indian team since the 2015-16 season, a period that has seen India win nine out of the 10 series that have participated in. Their only loss came in the Champions Trophy where they made the final and went down to Pakistan in a heart-wrenching defeat – at least for the Indian cricket fans.
That is a brilliant record by any stretch but in that period almost all the top teams have been sent packing – Australia were thrashed 4-1 at home, South Africa were pummelled 5-1 in their own den, Sri Lanka lost seven out of the eight matches in a span of a few months – although some might argue they are no longer a side that belongs to the top echelons of cricket – and England themselves were defeated 2-1.
In short, Team India’s fabulous ODI record will put them on the pedestal going into the 2019 World Cup and they will be one of two sides going into that tournament next year as favourites to clinch the trophy.
The room for improvement, however, is always there. There are a few chinks that have been exposed every now and then but have got papered over by the aforementioned record.
In one of my World Cricket Chat videos, I had reckoned if the pitches in the UK remained as flat as they have been in recent times, England will start favourites, head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. They have that kind of an explosive batting line-up, untested before their progress was stalled by the Indian spinners in the first game of this series.
On pitches that are slower, however, things could horribly wrong for them, as was the case in the 2017 Champions Trophy semi-final against Pakistan.
Looking at how things transpired in the second ODI at Lord’s, the same can be said about India too. Faced with a good target on what turned out to be a slowing pitch, the Indian middle-order struggled to keep abreast with the mounting required-rate once the openers had been sent back to the pavillion.
As consistent as they have been, there will be days when the openers & Virat Kohli will fail. And there will be days when the pitch will extract any a lot more pace off the ball than batsmen would like. India’s problems could flare up if both the aforesaid scenarios play out on the same day. In the same game.
That’s also the kind of situation when the Indian middle and lower-order will earn its pay.
Listening to the Indian batting coach Sanjay Bangar speak about the second ODI defeat, the striking aspect was the admission that the Indian middle-order is still a work in progress. For a team that has played 60 matches in this format since the previous World Cup and has one of the most competitive domestic T20 competition, it’s a surprise that India’s numbers four, five, six and seven, along with their positions in the order, haven’t yet been hammered in by the management.
Some puzzling decisions have been taken on the way.
For instance, the applicants for the number four slot have soared by the series. Team India has tried 10 different batsmen at that position since the previous World Cup, with only one other team – Australia – having tried more such players at that slot. This includes Hardik Pandya who has played five matches at that spot, despite being an obvious finisher in the side.
MS Dhoni’s role as a finisher is another question-mark. There’s one school of thought from a set of cricket fans which believes he shouldn’t be in the playing XI but all things considered, his experience could still be the key during the 2019 World Cup. And yet, it’s probably expecting too much out of him to bat at six and start lashing out from the proverbial first ball.
And then there has been a recall for Suresh Raina, not just to the India squad but also to the playing XI. It would be unfair to write off a cricketer on the basis of one under-par performance but equally stunning that despite the possession of those many batting riches, the team has to keep going back to Raina.
The good news for India is they have a decent amount of ODI cricket still to be played heading into the World Cup but in terms of getting their batting strategy right, it could be now or never.