By winning the ODI series in South Africa, Virat Kohli’s Indian team has created history. While the scoreline indicates India’s dominance, it does not do justice to the manner in which India have steamrolled the hosts.
The absence of Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers and Chris Morris at different stages of the series has taken a little bit of sheen from India’s triumph, but it’ll be grossly unfair if credit isn’t given where it’s due.
Let the top dogs be
The top three batsmen—Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Kohli — have scripted India’s success story in the fifty-over format. The two openers got together in the 2013 edition of the Champions Trophy and haven’t looked back since.
For the first half of their association, it was Rohit who would take charge. But lately, the roles have changed, for the southpaw has grown in stature in this format. While Dhawan has had a middling Test and T20 career, he’s a runaway match-winner in the one-day format. In fact, his numbers in ICC events even overshadow the brilliance that Kohli exudes.
Perhaps, it’s time to draw the line in the sand and treat him as a one-day specialist, for his frequent flirtations with the longest format are simply not working overseas. There’s a real danger of losing him as an ODI match-winner also, if he’s asked to remodel his game to suit the demands of Test cricket.
Rohit, on the other hand, got the opportunity to open in ODI as a last-ditch effort to revive his career, and that has turned out to be a masterstroke.
He’s got the game and the temperament to handle the new white ball, bat deep into the innings and then finish with a flourish that cannot be matched by many.
Like Dhawan, there’s a constant attempt to fit him into the Test side. But like Dhawan, it hasn’t worked. The only difference is that he’s unlikely to become a lesser limited-over player even if there are efforts to change his game to suit the longer format.
Whenever one of either Dhawan or Rohit falls, Kohli takes over. Kohli’s game has reached such heights that he’s no longer competing with the bowlers, but he’s doing so with himself. In the third ODI, he decided to play in a lower gear and ended up running over a 100 runs in his 160. In the fourth ODI, he decided to take on the same bowlers and did it without breaking a sweat. Currently, he’s the most complete batsman in the world.
Wristing assured for a while
If the 2013 Champions Trophy was a watershed event for the two openers, its 2017 edition was the dawn of a new era of spinners.
Both Ashwin and Jadeja were a part of India’s limited-over scheme of things for years, but their inability to pick wickets in the middle-overs tempted the team management/selectors to change tactics.
Out went the two finger-spinners and in came the two wrist-spinners, in Kuldeep and Chahal. While T20s have added a lot of dynamism to batting, they have also taken away batsmen’s penchant of looking for spin from the hand.
Modern-day batsmen have stopped looking for signs of variations at the point of release, which has handed a huge advantage to leggies.
Chahal honed his craft while playing for the Royal Challengers Bangalore, at a bowler’s graveyard called the Chinnaswamy Stadium. Playing in the IPL on such a ground inculcated the right work ethics in him, for he realised that the only way to minimise damage was by taking wickets.
So, instead of finding ways like bowling quicker to stem runs, he keeps flighting the ball outside the reach of batsmen. His key to success is the line he bowls. Kuldeep is one of the rare commodities in cricket: a chinaman. His natural length and speed — a lot fuller and slower — makes him a wicket-taker.
Low down for India
While India’s top-three are as good as you’d get in international cricket, India are yet to find an answer to their lower-order woes.
Thrice in three innings, India reached the 170-run mark by the 30-over stage, but on all three occasions, they couldn’t finish strongly. The fact that the innings isn’t taking off despite solid starts should cause serious concern.
In the last 18 months, India have tried more players at No 4 than any other team, and they added Ajinkya Rahane’s name to that list for this series.
Rahane started the series well, but his performances petered out. Hardik is blowing hot and cold too often.
His only innings of note was in the first Test, and that’s putting Dhoni in the spotlight more often.
While Dhoni has figured out a way to stay put, he’s struggling to get going. ODI innings should build towards a crescendo, but that’s rarely happening with India. The top-three paper over the cracks, but this problem might cost India a World Cup knockout game.