“Just to come through in games like these, gives great confidence. I think it’s very important to look ugly at times and earn victories’’, was what a relieved Virat Kohli had to say at the post-match presentation after his side eked out a narrow 8-run victory against Australia in the second ODI of the five-match series at the VCA Stadium, Nagpur on Tuesday.
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Staring in the face of what seemed like an imminent defeat till the 45th over of the Aussie innings, India managed to scrape through unvanquished in the end—thanks to some tight bowling by lead seamers Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah between overs 46 and 49, and an inspired effort by all-rounder Vijay Shankar in the final over, which yielded just two runs and got India the last two Aussie wickets. With Australia needing eleven runs off the final over, and more importantly with Marcus Stoinis still being there at the crease, an Aussie victory was not out of the equation, but Shankar’s guile in the final over, aided by some technical advice from the frontline seamers and assistance from the conditions, ensured that India secured their 500th ODI win—the second team to do so after Australia.
With a 2-0 lead in the bag, Kohli and co. would look to seal the series in the third one-day international at the JSCA Stadium, Ranchi on Friday. Interestingly, it is being conjectured that the Ranchi ODI could possibly be Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s final international appearance in his hometown, and if indeed it turns out to be so, there cannot be
The thirty-seven-year-old former Indian skipper has personally had a good 2019 so far, having amassed 301 runs from eight games at an average of 100.33 with an unbeaten 87 being his highest, which came against the Aussies at the Melbourne Cricket Ground a couple of months ago. Surely, he would want to shake off the golden duck, which he got in the previous game, and make his swansong on his home turf a memorable one.
Contrapuntal to Dhoni’s good form in 2019, Shikhar Dhawan’s sudden plunge to mediocrity has posited a few problems for India. The southpaw has managed just 264 runs from ten games at an average of 29.33 and a strike rate of 78.80 this year, surprisingly low by his own standards. With KL Rahul having made a strong statement with the bat in the two T20Is which preceded the ODIs, Dhawan will need to identify his vulnerabilities and mend them as soon as possible, lest his spot is ousted by Rahul in the World Cup.
What has compounded the worries for the Indian management is the Dhawan-Rohit opening pair’s iffy returns of late, for the duo averages a very ordinary 29.40 since the Asia Cup last year. The top order’s utter domination over the last two to three years has been India’s most distinguishing feature on the ODI circuit, but the opening pair’s recent brush with inconsistency has augmented the pressure on India’s middle-order, thus often requiring a Kohli, a Dhoni, or a Jadhav to bail them out of crisis situations.
Ambati Rayudu’s blow-hot-blow-cold form isn’t helping India’s cause either. One of the biggest complaints against the Hyderabadi over the years has been that if he scores a century in one game, his next few outings produce very little, and with two wasted opportunities in the series already, it seems as if he has done very little to prove the allegation false. It remains to be seen if Rayudu is replaced with either Rahul, or Rishabh Pant, both of whom are contending with him for a berth in India’s World Cup squad.
India’s bowling has been their stronger suit in recent times. The Bumrah-Shami new ball pair has looked good so far and delivered what is required of them to exude enough confidence in the captain, and it is unlikely that the hosts will tinker with a combination which was instrumental behind the first two wins in the series. A special occasion awaits Ravindra Jadeja, as he is on the cusp of playing his 150th ODI and will become the twentieth Indian cricketer to achieve the feat if he is included in the playing XI on Friday.
As far as the visitors are concerned, problems are far too many. More than anything else, the Australians appear to be a puzzled unit, who despite putting in all the hard work to reach winning positions, somehow find ways to squander their chances. Their foremost concern has been the bleak form of skipper Aaron Finch, who seems to have imported a swarm of butterflies into his system. In the absence of David Warner and Steven Smith, a lot of hopes are pinned on Finch, but so far the right-handed opener has looked anything but assuring. His last eight ODI scores read 5, 41, 11, 6, 6, 14, 0, 37—nothing at all to induce fear in the opposition camps, unlike the Finch of the bygone years, who was one of the most dreaded batsmen in world cricket. Even though he and Usman Khawaja started well in Nagpur, his failure to convert his 30+ score into a fifty or a hundred must prick him to the bone if Australia capitulate to yet another ODI series defeat. His co-batters—Khawaja, Handscomb, Maxwell and Stoinis–have all fired in fits and starts, yet no one has gone on to take the responsibility of seeing the innings through for his side, unlike a Kohli, or a Dhoni does for India. One of the keys to winning a series in the subcontinent for overseas teams is to rotate the strike well in the middle overs. However, the Aussies have fared poorly on this front too. The previous game can be cited as an example, where between overs 10 and 40, Australia played out 91 dot balls, which amounts to 15.1 overs! These middle overs are the defining overs of an ODI innings, and once you lose your way during this phase, it becomes a very grim task to regain command and produce a late flourish.
As if to compensate for the team’s batting woes, the Australian bowlers have bowled their hearts out and consistently put the team in commanding positions (the T20s included), which their batsmen have consistently allowed to slip through. While the seamers have shown remarkable persistence with their lines and lengths, the spinners have bowled parsimoniously to not only contain the Indian batsmen, but also pick up important wickets. Leg-spinner Adam Zampa merits special mention in this regard, for the blonde-haired cricketer has, apparently, cracked a formula to pick Kohli’s wicket time and again. Again, it was he who was responsible for India’s middle-order collapse in Nagpur, which resulted from his dismissal of Jadhav and Dhoni off successive deliveries. Nathan Lyon’s inclusion in the previous game also proved to be an effective move, as the wily off-spinner returned with tidy figures of 1/42.
Milestones to watch out for:-
- Ravindra Jadeja is just one game away from becoming the twentieth Indian to win 150+ ODI caps.
- M.S. Dhoni needs 33 runs to become the sixth Indian to score 17,000 international runs.
- Virat Kohli (10,693 runs) needs 76 runs to become India’s third most prolific run-getter in ODIs.
Probable Indian XI: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli (c), Ambati Rayudu/Rishabh Pant/KL Rahul, Vijay Shankar, M.S. Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah.
Probable Australian XI: Aaron Finch (c), Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Marcus Stoinis, Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Adam Zampa and Nathan Coulter-Nile/Jason Behrendroff.