Indian cricket: The number seven conondrum
India went into the last T20 International game of the year – a T20 International against arch-rivals Pakistan, one of the fiercest rivalries in World Cricket.
Pakistan won the all-important toss and, with dew being a huge factor, had no hesitation in putting India in to bat first. Pakistan fielded an unchanged winning combination, while India got Ashwin in place of the villain of the last game, Jadeja.
India had a sparkling start with Gauti giving an impetus, scoring 28 of just 11 deliveries, but two quick blows by Gul in quick succession, getting rid of Gauti and Rahane, pushed India a little back. India now heavily relied on the current pairing of Kolhi and Yuvraj to take India through to a decent total on a placid track. Kohli went on to the counter-attacking mode, but soon went back to the pavilion when a poor call by Yuvraj did him in and he was run out for a well compiled 27. The skipper and Yuvraj then had a game-changing partnership of 97, with Yuvraj scoring a blistering 72 of 36 balls, while the skipper managed a 23 ball 33.
Pakistan bowlers had spells of pressure, but it was Yuvraj’s day and his three consecutive sixes of Ajmal turned the game on its head and help India force their way to an above-par score. So, as it ended, Pakistan needed 193 to clean sweep the two-match series.
Pakistan came into bat and the bright spark of the last game, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, was hit to all parts of the ground. Pakistan too had a bright start, but Ashwin came on to give a crucial breakthrough to the Indians. Umar Akmal was promoted up the order to up the ante and he did it well, but Shehzad was struggling at the other end and was soon dismissed by the hero Yuvraj Singh.
In came the Pakistani skipper, who was in form and started from where he left in the last game. He single-handedly ripped the Indian bowling attack and just when Pakistan looked well on their way to another win, Dinda proved to be the difference with an impressive spell at the fag end of the Pakistani innings giving joy to one and all in India, helping India level the series, courtesy of an eleven-run win.
As they say, “the more bitter the rival, the sweeter the victory.”
But behind all these, there might be hidden shortcomings – areas where India need to focus and improve, but a win might overshadow them. From what we have seen in the last four recently-concluded T20 Internationals, playing a pure batsman like Rohit Sharma at number seven will not serve India any good. Not only will he occupy a space, but leaves the already poor Indian bowling short.
India need to rethink the number seven spot, which is absolutely pivotal in shaping the fortunes of the Indian team in the near future. With the ODI series coming up, I hope India resolve the mystery of number seven because Indian bowling will struggle in case a pure batsman is fielded. I understand that Dhoni feels the likes of Raina and Yuvraj can make up for the fifth bowler but, in reality, they should be used as a cover for any bowler who has an off-day, just like Bhuvneshwar Kumar did.
Probably Irfan Pathan serves best at the number seven slot, but in case he is unavailable, India need to assess their options; whether they would like to give Jadeja a chance or probably go in with a specialist bowler. That is for the think tank to decide, but the think tank must give it a good, sound thought. With Ashwin having proved his mettle with the bat in the Test series against England, India should be all the more confident of fielding an extra bowler, which gives them a better chance of winning and gives the batsmen extra responsibility, which they might relish. The comfort of an extra batsman may entice the rest of them to play a poor shot or cause a lapse in concentration. With one of the best batting line-ups in the world, India should show confidence in them and let them express themselves.
Also, Dhoni needs to talk to the bowlers a lot more. Just like yesterday, the newcomer Bhuvneshwar Kumar was struggling; a little chat or words of encouragement would have helped. Another fact that Dhoni must keep in mind is to be flexible. When the fast bowlers were being hit around the park, Dhoni should have brought on Ashwin. His variety could have come in handy and also the fact that the tall off-spinner opens the bowling for Chennai in the IPL would have only helped.
The joy of the victory may be influential in leading these points to take the back seat, but if India are to do well in the upcoming ODI series and many more, they need to rethink their strategy and especially on that number seven spot. Though many might argue why so much emphasis is on that one spot, the fact that this very spot changes the entire balance of the team highlights its importance.