India still an unsettled outfit
India vs Australia: India will feel this was a series it could — and perhaps should — have won.
After yet another one-day series defeat, India is no closer to finding solutions to the issues it has long wrestled with. India’s bowling group, which had performed admirably in the World Cup, bowling out every opponent till it ran into Australia in the semifinals, was rudderless here. It did not help that India lost Mohammed Shami, its bowling spearhead, to injury just before the first game of the VB Series.
In his absence, Ishant Sharma did alright but if he was expected to lead the attack, he disappointed. Of greater worry was Umesh Yadav’s performance.
This is the fast bowler’s third tour to Australia and he made the same elementary mistakes, bowling too short, straying down the leg-side multiple times when his captain had loaded the off-side with fielders, and generally operating without a plan.
Yadav was, by a distance, the most expensive bowler from both sides, leaking 345 runs from five matches, at an average of 49.28. Ravi Shastri rather charitably called Ishant and Yadav’s efforts part of a “huge learning curve” while Dhoni repeatedly expressed his frustration. Barinder Sran made an impact in Perth before being handed a harsh lesson in bowling at this level. He will get better, though.
Let down by his bowlers in the first two matches, it is understandable that Dhoni wanted to explore all options to salvage the series in the third ODI. It is true R. Ashwin struggled in Perth and Brisbane, but it was perhaps not sensible to omit him from the side in Melbourne, where Ravindra Jadeja got the ball to grip. Ashwin did not figure in Canberra or Sydney, a venue traditionally favourable to spin bowling, even with Yadav’s difficulties.
Dhoni’s explanation was that it was the only way an extra seamer could be accommodated without weakening the batting.
But India was hardly required to bat that deep, and the only time it was — at the Manuka Oval — Gurkeerat Mann, Ravindra Jadeja and Rishi Dhawan faltered. Rishi Dhawan was publicly dismissed as an option by Dhoni when he was speaking of the need for a seam-bowling all-rounder. In the end, when given a chance, the Himachal Pradesh player fared better with the ball than someone as experienced as Yadav.
India will feel this was a series it could — and perhaps should — have won. It had no business losing in Canberra, and with just a little more discipline, a better fist could have been made of the third ODI in Melbourne.
Virat Kohli felt Australia had won all the crunch moments, the difference lying in the fact that this was a side used to victory.
This was a tournament of flat pitches and tall totals — indeed no five-game bilateral ODI series has produced more runs — with echoes of the last bilateral engagement between these sides in 2013. If India’s bowlers struggled on the flat pitches rolled out here, its batsmen flourished. Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli put Australia to the sword, scoring two hundreds apiece. Shikhar Dhawan, just when his place in the side was being called into question, scored a pair of fifties and one century.
It was India’s middle-order, though, that was exposed here. Number five is still a problem area, and Dhoni’s admittedly waning big-hitting powers mean six is not his ideal spot. Manish Pandey got too little time to bat in the first two games and was unfairly dropped, for the sake of the team’s balance.
He was recalled only in the final ODI, and even that decision was forced by Ajinkya Rahane’s injury. Pandey and India are fortunate that he produced that innings in Sydney, to help the side complete the highest successful ODI run chase against Australia in Australia. Similarly, Jasprit Bumrah’s encouraging display at the SCG was only facilitated by the injury to Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who has clearly regressed.
India went into the VB Series with an unsettled side and emerges from it with one, despite handing out four new caps. But for Pandey and Bumrah, it learnt very little about itself that it did not already know.