The Indian cricket team having convincingly won the first three ODI matches of the 5 match series against New Zealand seemed to be a side, as Virat Kohli beautifully summed up, prior to his departure, “as a team on autopilot”. With a successful tour in Australia and a scintillating initial performance in New Zealand, the Indian team looked like a well-oiled machine and the only thing missing was for them to learn the “Haka”.
A victorious dance was what Kohli and his side exhibited after their victory in Australia. The traditional dance of the Maori made famous by the ‘All Blacks” New Zealand rugby team would have been a fitting farewell dance for the Indian team, for their unblemished 5-0 victory.
Cricket, as a sport, very rarely follows a set pattern and the unexpected happened when the well beaten New Zealand side demolished India in the 4th ODI in Hamilton. The stunned silent Indian supporters saw their side fall like ninepins against the guile of the pace and swing of the leading New Zealand opening bowler, Trent Boult. A spotless possible Indian victory was marred by a performance which one never expected from one of the top ODI sides in the world. Presently considered to be one of favourites to lift the World Cup later this year, the well-lubricated machinery of the Indian cricket team, which was being talked about, seemed to have slipped rather abruptly. A little wobble of the ball in the air and the Indian batsmen looked all at sea.
The long tour and travel with a victorious badge on their shoulder could have been the reason for the Indian side to drop their guard a little.
Today's game only reconfirmed how dependent India is on the top 3. They empower 4/5/6/7. But on days when they fail, India looks vulnerable because the middle order doesn't give the impression it can take control of games.
— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) January 31, 2019
“You snooze you lose”, that loss in concentration was all it took for New Zealand to show the vulnerability of the Indian batsmen against the moving ball. The Indian side, sans Virat Kohli and the experienced M.S. Dhoni, looked like a bunch of immature thoughtless, reckless and rudderless batters. The aim of establishing and ensuring their place in the forthcoming World Cup side in England, the Indian middle-order batsmen, rather than showing patience and understanding of the situation, were adamant to play to the gallery. They seemed to be brandishing their bat like a sword, wanting to swat every delivery to the fence.
India has a major problem in finding the right balance in the middle order slots for the World Cup. The English conditions will help swing and with two new Kookaburra balls in use from each end, the batsmen will need to have the technique to encounter it. The challenge will be to play offensive shots to a moving delivery, far from what India faced in Australia, and will do so at home.
The Indian bowling unit has on many occasions in the recent past saved the side from possible defeat. A measly total of 92 runs in the last match gave them nothing to protect themselves and work with. The unfortunate outcome for the Indian side from this is the confidence that will now emanate in the New Zealand side on account of their win. One of India’s limited overs potent weapon is the leg-spin bowling of Yuzvendra Chahal. Ross Taylor, the experienced New Zealand batsman, on chasing a low total, could experiment with his stroke-play against Chahal and his lusty blows and success will be the script that his teammates are likely to follow.
The Indian selectors have a very important and difficult task at hand. They will need to be wily in their selection of the bowling unit in the remaining matches before the World Cup. Batsmen tend to have a set pattern of playing shots against fast and medium pace bowlers, but spin is the most find difficult to master. A batter, in order to hit the ball to the boundary, has to generate his own pace and power and the misreading of the turn and bounce is where most falter in executing it. The more exposure they get against a spinner, the better they will adapt over time and with Kuldeep Yadav and Chahal, as well as the slippery Kedar Jadhav, the Indian selectors need to be careful in over-exposing them. They need to control the matches they play, going forward for India as well as during the Indian Premier League (IPL).
The IPL franchise owners need to be spoken to, not only in ensuring their work-load is kept to a minimum but also to keep them at bay from being over-exposed against rival overseas batsmen. This is extremely important and by ensuring that the best bowling attack in World cricket at present, India, is well preserved and fresh before the cricket World Cup 2019.
The only solution for India now is to ensure that the wickets, when they play Australia at home, are green and lively. The Indian bowlers will relish it, but conditions simulated to what the batters may face in England is the only way they will be able to select the right combination for their middle order. India, at present, has a long tail of bowlers who are not very proficient as batsmen and therefore, India’s middle order will need to play a major part in their quest to win the Cup.
Wake up India, a Haka dance at the end of the New Zealand series will now be a wonderful way to end a lovely tour Down Under.
(The writer is a former Test cricketer)