The chink in India’s ODI armour
The recently concluded ODI series between India-South Africa had a similar pattern to India’s batting charts. Heavy scoring, at better than run a ball by the top order eclipsed by the sluggish batting by the lower-middle order.
In the 3rd ODI in Cape Town, a brilliant century by Virat Kohli was ably supported by Shikhar Dhawan, who made a swashbuckling 76. The Indian team looked set to score in excess of 330 but the “usual” give away by the lower-middle order led to the derailment of India’s score to 303.
MS Dhoni, tasked with finishing the innings, could only muster 10 of 22 balls. The strike rate of 45 is appalling for any batsman who needs to go after the bowling in the latter stages of the innings. The same story unveiled in the 4th and 5th ODI as well, with the likes of Hardik Pandya, Dhoni, and Shreyas Iyer unable to provide finishing touches to the innings.
The great Australian sides of 2000s which went on to win the world cups had some excellent hitters at No. 6, 7, and 8. The Aussie side of 1999 had the likes of Michael Bevan and Tom Moody batting at No. 6 and 7 respectively.
Both were able to play the big shots when needed. Andrew Symonds and Michael Hussey played similar roles in the triumphs of 2003 and 2007 respectively. In 2011, India could depend on Yuvraj Singh, “peak” Dhoni, Yusuf Pathan, and Suresh Raina to provide some meaty blows towards the end of the innings.
So, why is India not able to score freely in the latter stages of the innings? The biggest cause for concern has been the steep drop in the hitting ability of Dhoni. The current Dhoni is a shadow of himself. He gets bogged down against the spinners and plays too many dot balls at the start of his innings.
On occasions, Dhoni manages to accelerate towards the end the innings but that only pushes his innings strike rate in the range of 100-110. This is inept for a batsman tasked with providing big hits towards the end of the innings. Also, the faster bowlers have found out that back of the length delivery towards the body works wonders against M.S and he struggles to send the ball towards the boundary line.
The other “finisher” that India has invested in for the ODI world cup in 2019 is Hardik Pandya. While his hitting ability against the spinners is unmatched, his ability against the faster bowlers leaves a lot to be desired.
He is also going through a poor run of form, managing only one big score during the whole tour of South Africa. However, he looks like the best bet to provide the crucial momentum towards the end of the innings.
The likes of Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey, and Shreyas Iyer do not possess the firepower needed to propel the innings in later stages. They play those “cute shots” like the ramp over the short fine leg but lack in striking it big down the ground.
Plenty of opportunities have been given to all three but they could not cement their place in the team. Kedar Jadhav especially can consider himself a bit lucky as he has not been able to do much of note in the recent past. His bowling ability is helping him keep the spot in the team.
So, what are the options that India can have in such positions? Unfortunately, the list is small. Dinesh Karthik is one name which springs to mind especially after his recent heroics in the final of the Nidahas Trophy.
Some of the hitters of note in the domestic circuit are Deepak Hooda, Rishabh Pant and Suryakumar Yadav. While Pant failed to live up to expectations in the Nidahas Trophy, Hooda and Yadav are yet to be tested in the international arena. Vijay Shankar is technically sound but there are some question marks over his hitting abilities.
With only about 12 months to go for the ICC World Cup 2019, Indian selectors would do well to remove the finishing chink in India’s batting armour. For a start, they may keep a close eye on Hooda, Pant, and Suryakumar during IPL 2018. If they are able to light up the IPL, they should be on the flight to England in July.