India completed their toughest assignment of this season and the win over Australia must give them immense satisfaction. Not only from the result’s point of view, the team was also able to achieve few results which are going to benefit them in the long run. Even though a 3 match series doesn’t offer you enough sample size to assess too many things but provided, it was Australia and not Sri Lanka, the team can feel confident about few of the positives they gained and some of the lessons they learnt from the series.
KL Rahul : The perfect 3D Player
The first and biggest positive coming out of this series was the versatility of Lokesh Rahul who showed his game is not only restricted to top order but he is flexible enough to play as a middle order batsman. KL Rahul was in rich veins of form coming to the series which is why Indian captain Virat Kohli wanted him to play at all costs. So much so that he was ready to sacrifice his own comfortable batting position too which he eventually did in the first match in Mumbai. However, it didn’t work as Indian batting order collapsed like a pack of cards.
Assuming you must be aware about the circumstances under which Rahul had to bat a 5 in second ODI at Rajkot where he scored 80 off 52 balls, let’s just see how he approached that particular inning. An inning which included 6 fours and 3 sixes. With 42 runs coming in the boundaries which speaks volumes of his hitting abilities, it was also important to rotate strike as much strike as possible a middle order batsman. Rahul in that inning took as many as 30 singles and played only 10 dot balls which is ideal at that batting position and it is something you normally see from someone like Virat Kohli who is the pioneer of batting standards.
Rahul, as finisher too scored 26 runs off 13 balls against Starc and 15 in 9 against Cummins which further goes on to show that he can take on the best bowlers in the world and his hitting isn’t only limited to waiting for some less experienced bowlers to come & bowl which has been the case with other finishers in Indian cricket off late. Rahul played just one inning at 5 as he was forced to open again due to an injury to Dhawan in Bengaluru but it was one inning which showed a lot of promise.
Virat Kohli should sign a contract of batting at 3 only
It evoked all kinds of reactions when Kohli decided to bat at 4 to start the series with. Keeping fans’ emotions aside as you can’t let your decisions get influenced by how fans react, it looked like a risky move at the first place. Kohli offered a return catch to Zampa at Wankhede when he came to bat at 4 with the pressure of scoring quick runs right from the word go.
When Kohli came, the score read 134-2 in 27.1 overs. It was obvious that the run rate of only 5 at that stage and at a ground where no score is safe to defend was going to put additional pressure on Kohli. Correcting his mistake in Rajkot, when he came at 3 with the score reading 81-1 in 13.3 overs, he controlled the game as usual, made sure the run rate stays around 6 until he gets set and then he took it beyond 6 which was something India missed with Rahul batting at 3 in the first game.
Also, when you’re chasing a big total like India did in 3rd ODI, you’d want someone like Kohli to walk in at 3 and ease the pressure from the other batsmen, something he is so good at. Kohli’s strike rotating abilities, the skill of absorbing pressure and then taking on the best bowlers in the world when required makes him the best ever chaser in white ball cricket. For sure, with these skills he can succeed at 4 as well but when you’ve got a batsman who could do all this, it’s important he faces as many balls as possible in order to construct the inning. At 4, he’d inevitably be reconstructing the inning which is a lot different and less productive than constructing an already built inning.
Don’t leave it too late for acceleration
One of the primary reasons why India lost the first ODI and Australia lost the third one was both these teams being indecisive about when to put the foot on the accelerator. In the first game, India, who had lost just one wicket was going around only 5 runs per over till the 27rd over mark which put an extra pressure on the batsmen to come. When you’re looking to achieve a score of 300 and beyond batting first, it is highly requisite that your set batsmen are more decisive about the timing of acceleration. The sooner it comes, the better it is.
In the final ODI, Australia too made things difficult for themselves by leaving the acceleration thing too late for themselves. They were 78-2 at the end of 13th over mark. With two well set batsmen batting, they could only manage to score 135-2 in their next 27 overs with one wicket being of Mitchell Starc. It was the same mistake which India made while batting first in Mumbai. In the modern day cricket, the set batsmen have to start taking calculative risks earlier than how it went out from these two sides in two matches of this series. It becomes even more essential if the 5th bowler is operating in that particular period.
No Backup plan for Hardik Pandya
It is confusing to see Indian management preferring bowlers who could bat but at the same time choosing specialist batsmen over All-rounders when it comes to batting. Their inconsistent stance over it leaves a few unsolved questions even after they won the series. Jadeja was selected over Chahal because he can bat, Thakur was selected over Saini because of the very same reason but when there was a match-up between Manish Pandey and Shivam Dube, the team decided to go with a pure batsman instead of a batsman who could also provide few overs given that the team was only playing with 5 bowling options.
With an injured Hardik Pandya, team often struggles to find the right balance. The worst case scenario is cutting down bowling strength to enhance strength in batting. Shivam Dube is a newcomer and understandably, team doesn’t show same faith in him as it does in Hardik Pandya. Yet, it’s important to have a backup plan for Pandya considering his fragile fitness off late. You can’t judge a player without throwing him in at the deep end and so Shivam Dube not getting any game despite being picked in the squad shows that the team is keeping all the hopes from Hardik Pandya only.
Play specialist players, don’t pick players just for the sake of it
Albeit it isn’t an observation you’d draw from this particular series only but this series further went on to strengthen this point. Your batting depth is of no use if it doesn’t free up your top order and allow them to play more freely. Teams like England are blessed with good batsmen lower down the order but is definitely not the case with India and hence India shouldn’t emphasize too much on batting depth just for the sake of it.
Having more batsmen down the order generally means the top order has that cushion of more batsmen and thus, can take risks a lot more often. This is the exact reason why English top order scores runs so quickly. When it comes to Indian team, the top order never feels easy no matter how many batsmen are playing down the order which is one reason why Virat Kohli has to play a more controlled game without taking a lot of risks.
Since, the batsmen coming after don’t give the same sense of security and everything has to be done by the top order, wouldn’t it be better for India to go back to their successful ‘ Kulcha ‘ combination? They also preferred Shardul Thakur over Navdeep Saini because Thakur has the batting abilities and yet got bundled out on 255 in Mumbai. Although it was a mistake they corrected in the next two games. Even in Rajkot, India struggled at the back end when it came to scoring quick runs in the last 5 overs.
Playing Kuldeep and Chahal together would mean batsmen would be chasing 280 or 260 instead of 320 or would defend scores like 290 and when most of the work has to be done by the top order in either scenarios, it isn’t very difficult to decide which task is easier.