The first Australia v India ODI played at Perth on Tuesday lived up to the billing. It was a close contest in which Australia had to work really, really hard for the victory. Now, I am in no way putting India as the underdog here, but they did play well for much of the game and tested the home side’s credentials as the defending ODI world champions.
Yes, it was an inexperienced Australian bowling attack that the Indian batting unit scored 309 runs against. Orchestrated by Rohit Sharma’s 171* (163) and Virat Kohli’s 91 (97), and the duo putting on a gargantuan 207-run stand for the second wicket, India would have had Australia worried about the massive target they had set for them. The fact that it was not enough to go 0-1 up in the series should be of a massive concern to MS Dhoni and the Indian team management.
I mean the Indian batsmen responded very well to their captain’s decision to elect to bat first after winning the toss. on a placid Perth pitch. Indian batsmen, historically, do take time to acclimatise to the foreign conditions and nature of the playing surfaces. But on Tuesday, barring Shikhar Dhawan, they did put on a commendable show.
India’s bowling attack, though, did not put up even half-a-decent showing as the batsmen. Barinder Sran shone in his debut ODI, by not only picking up three wickets but also giving India’s attempted defence of 309/3 a great beginning with twin early strikes of Aaron Finch and David Warner. The Indian bowlers on the whole were slightly expensive. But their ineptitude to pick wickets after reducing Australia to 2/21 is what will worry Dhoni. Even on a big ground as the W.A.C.A is, Australia were quite comfortable in chasing down 310.
What are the serious issues the Dhoni-Ravi Shastri duo should look into before the Brisbane ODI? Do the visitors need change(s) in personnel? Answers to those questions and much, much more to follow…
Ajinkya Rahane for Dhawan?
I will tell you why I would be inclined to make this change to India’s playing XI for the second one-dayer in Brisbane. First reason would be to give Dhawan a rest and help him analyse his own game. He has not done too badly, scoring 338 runs in his last 10 ODIs and notching up three half-centuries along the way.
The Delhi southpaw has, however, struggled a bit since the home series against South Africa. He got off to starts in a couple of ODIs against the Proteas, but did look out of place while he was at the crease. He did not look settled in the Perth ODI either, playing and missing a lot of deliveries and, in the end, falling to the trap set by the Kangaroos. It was highly unconvincing from Dhawan.
The decision to pull Dhawan out of the playing XI would be in the best interests of the team. He is not the man in form, and there is another opener waiting in the wings. There can be no reason why the Indian team management should not entertain thoughts of having two Mumbaikars open the innings. Rahane may not be overly adept at scoring runs quickly when batting in the middle order, but his game is suited to facing the new ball and kicking on from there. Okay, his ODI record till date is not greatly inspiring, but then, what is the point of having him in the playing XI and not giving him a chance to bat because of the perceived weaknesses in his game?
Also, dropping Dhawan would not be a hasty decision. Only less than a year back, he was providing India with great starts in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 played in Australia and New Zealand. But he has hit a rough patch lately, and is not doing much good to the team. And it is pointless to have a pure batsman in the side if he does not have a fixed batting position. India also have the ICC World Twenty20 coming up in a couple of months’ time, and they ought to look at having a solid opening pair for the biennial tournament.
One spinner too many for the prevalent conditions?
Ravichandran Ashwin finds himself in a battleground all of a sudden, though not in an unfamiliar one by any stretch. His spinning mastery has always been suited to the conditions back home, and the question has been whether he can be half as good when India tour countries like Australia and South Africa. On Tuesday in Perth, he made an unenviable start to 2016, after enjoying a good year of 2015 across all formats.
Why Ashwin concerns me, after his showing with the ball in Perth? Australia’s top six has five right-handers, and just one southpaw, in the form of Warner. And even he is a lethal striker of the cricket ball. No disrespect to Ashwin or his craft, but India find themselves in a tight corner ahead of tomorrow’s second ODI.
The ‘Gabba pitch will be very much similar to the Perth pitch, and the question is: how effective can Ashwin be? Don’t forget, the Tamilnadu off-spinner picked up two wickets at the W.A.C.A and gave respectability to his own figures that at one stage read 6-0-54-0. Steve Smith and George Bailey were clever and gutsy in the way they attacked Ashwin, and took advantage of the ball spinning into them, albeit not much. As a result of these pitches, you do not want Ashwin to come out of his groove and bowl flatter and faster, taking away the ‘spinning’ element even more.
That is the reason Dhoni should look into the blueprint of playing two spinners. The wickets are not going to offer much assistance to them, and if the spinners are not your main wicket-taking options, you should cogitate bringing in another pace bowler, ideally.
Continue with the Sran, Bhvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav trio, or bring in Ishant Sharma?
Here is where Mohammed Shami will be inexplicably missed. He is the Indian bowler who can bowl two lengths – back of good length and the fuller length – that will bring you wickets on Australian pitches. Yadav is certainly capable and quicker than Shami, but he is not as consistent or reliable.
Strangely, Bhuvneshwar, who flew in to replace the injured Shami, got to play the first ODI, but not Ishant, who was part of the original squad. I think the lanky Delhi pacer should come in for the UP seamer.
Bhuvneshwar was the most economical (4.66 runs-per-over in a 9-over spell) of the Indian bowlers in Perth, and provided great control to Dhoni while others were being taken to the cleaners. But is he going to produce wickets bowling with the new ball? Probably not. And, again, can he bowl two lengths to make himself a lot more lethal? If Dhoni asks those questions, he will acknowledge that Ishant is better suited to the Australian conditions, than Bhuvneshwar.
Resting Dhawan would not only move Rahane up the order, but also make space for Manish Pandey in the middle order. And India, sooner than later, got to give thought to their team selections. Why include a batsman in the team sheet if his batting position is not fixed? It need not be, but Rahane and Pandey’s cases are plain preposterous.
Jadeja, with his all-round abilities, can play as an all-rounder, at No.6, while the four bowlers can be Sran, Ishant, Yadav and Ashwin. There will still be one spot up for grabs. It really depends on what sort of personnel Dhoni favours at No.7? Does he want another all-rounder, or someone like Axar Patel, who is very much akin to Jadeja with the ball, but is probably a better choice than Rishi Dhawan or Gurkeerat Singh Mann.