What the Indian team lacks at the World Cup
The semi-final lineups are ready and it couldn’t have been better. As expected, or I would say, as the two legends – Sachin Tendulkar and Adam Gilchrist predicted, the top 4 ODI teams as per the ICC ODI rankings have made the semis. At the moment you can’t put one team over the other as all the 4 teams are really playing some incredible all-round cricket and even the late Paul the Octopus would have been unable to predict the ultimate champion!
Something is missing
Now let’s have a look at the current Indian batting lineup. Is this batting unit capable of getting the better of a team like Australia? The class of Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane; the ever-aggressive Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan; The game changer Suresh Raina, Mr. Dependable MS Dhoni and the unpredictable Ravindra Jadeja. Yes, India has some great batting talents in it’s ranks, and it’s nothing new for a country which always produced batting legends. But, does the rejuvenated Indian team still lack something in this lineup?
Something has to be missing as the highest total made by this formidable looking Indian batting unit in this World Cup would be much higher than the 307 they scored against South Africa. India’s batting totals seem quite low considering that 350+ scores are occurring frequently throughout this tournament. Out of the 7 games India played, they batted first on 3 occasions and their scores read 300-7 against Pakistan, 307-7 against South Africa and 302-6 against Bangladesh.
Less than impressive strike rate
In the match against Pakistan, India was in a state of 163-2 in 30 overs. With 8 wickets in hand and 20 overs remaining, no one would have batted an eyelid if India would have added 160-170 odd runs which would have made the total closer to 350. In the next 15 overs, even though the Raina-Kohli partnership added a useful and crucial 110 runs to the total, it still seemed a bit ordinary when compared with runs amassed by teams like Australia and SA in the last 20 overs, due to the presence of explosive big hitters. After both Kohli and Raina were dismissed, even the big hitters Dhoni and Jadeja couldn’t add much to the total as India finished their innings having scored 300.
The situation wasn’t much different in the match against the Proteas, as India were in a position of 261-3 in 43.4 overs just when Dhawan was caught at deep fine leg. But again, the Indian middle order wasn’t able to give that much-needed acceleration towards the end and the innings came to an end at 307-7. None of the Indian batsmen’s strike rate was above 150 except that of Dhoni, who only faced 11 deliveries before making the walk back to the pavilion.
In the knock-out game against Bangladesh, Suresh Raina had the highest strike rate (114.03) among Indian batsmen, which clearly indicates that none of the Indian batsmen came with the thought of smashing the ball out of the park at every opportunity. The fact that Dhoni takes 10 to 15 deliveries to get settled, adds salt to the bruise. But, those totals made up by India were more than enough to beat the opposition, mainly due to some fantastic bowling performances by Indian bowlers.
Till now India has been playing a complete team game, which is definitely a good thing, but entering to the semis, where you have to beat a much tougher opponent, what would India give to have someone in the lineup who can tear the opposition apart by setting a target which is improbable to achieve under any condition.
Aggression over ‘being sensible’
Imagine what would be going through a batsman like Glenn Maxwell’s mind after the 35th over while batting first. He would definitely be thinking of smashing every ball out of the ground on every possible opportunity. Captain Cool, on the other hand, would be calculating what the par score is and try to reach the target score that he had in his mind on the particular pitch on the particular day, without any doubt.
Of course, this is the difference in mindset between the two and so the way both approach the game is different. While the latter may seem more sensible, as trying to set targets excess of 350 every time may lead to a sudden collapse of the batting order, it won’t still be bad to have someone in the top 7 with the mindset of the former and ability to hit a twenty-ball-fifty regardless of the situation.
Why SA, NZ and Australia are a notch ahead of India in terms of batting?
Brendon McCullum is the man for New Zealand. Whatever be the target while chasing, he exploits the bowling powerplay to its best and provides the Kiwis with the much-needed explosive start. He may not last too long at the crease, but the damage he imparts on the opposition is staggering. In the match against England, the hosts where chasing total of 123 and McCullum blasted off with a 25-ball-77 at a strike rate of 308 which wasn’t quite necessary at that stage. In fact, his strike rate did not come below 100 in a single game at the tournament.
Maxwell does this job for Australia. He has scored 2 fifties and a hundred in this tournament with all of them coming at a strike rate of over 150. In the Australia-Srilanka match, Australia were stuttering at 177- 4 after 32.3 overs, when Maxwell started his demolition. He never worried about the situation too much, but played his shots with full freedom, and along with Shane Watson, helped Australia reach a mammoth total of 376 which looked impossible before his arrival.
When it comes to South Africa, the best batsman in the world takes the stage. Yes, AB de Villiers, who scored an incredible 66-ball-162 against West Indies, is unstoppable once he gets going. No wonder the African nation crossed the 400-run mark twice this World Cup!
What actually guys like Maxwell, McCullum and De Villiers do is that, taking a bit of risk, they shift the momentum completely in their favour in a span of 2-3 overs, regardless of the situation they are in. This change in momentum puts the opposition bowlers under enormous pressure which helps these aggressive shot-makers to play their natural game and provide the X-factor to the team.
Who could be India’s Big Show?
For India, even though Raina possess that killer attitude, he is forced to hold back and play a more sensible game when wickets fall early. If Dhoni or Ajinkya Rahane could hold one end safely (which both of them are good at), Raina should be allowed to play his shots freely at the other end as he is much more dangerous while playing his natural game. Dhoni will have to put more faith in Raina’s abilities as a 60-ball-century from his Chennai Super Kings counterpart can entirely change the complexion of the game.
But, considering the fact that there isn’t much batting left after Dhoni and Raina, it will be up to the captain to decide whether he should allow his teammate to play his own game.
Jadeja is the man who Dhoni and Team India can hope to do the job of a destructor. He comes late to the party and so obviously his job is to hit everything out of the park. And that’s why Jadeja is so crucial in the current Indian batting lineup. His job is to add that extra 20-30 runs that could lift a par total to an imposing one. Although, he came good in the quarter-final against Bangladesh, he hasn’t been in great touch. He needs to find his mojo before the semis, to stage a big show and to live up to the expectations that are put on him.
Real test lies ahead in the semis
India clearly lacks the service of a Big Show, who could change the course of the game with the bat. In a couple of occasions, when the top order perished cheaply while chasing, the middle order batted sensibly taking singles and doubles regularly and carried India to victory. This team may seem invincible in all aspects, but when you look at the batting depth of a team like Australia, it becomes apparent that no total may seem enough to defend against the 4-time world champions.
Yes, India needs someone who can strike from the very first ball they face, thus putting the pressure of the big game back on the opposition in the middle overs.
But, changing the mindset alone won’t do the job as one has to be completely aware of his own strengths and weakness. If Ajinkya Rahane changes his mindset and plays the De Villiers game, it won’t do any good to the Indian team. It’s all about knowing your roles properly and playing the game in a way that suits your abilities the most. But it’s definitely a great thing to have someone in your lineup, who can hit six boundaries in a row to leave the bowler dazed.