CHENNAI: If Australia skipper Steve Smith were to get his hands on a time machine, the first thing he’d probably do is jump back to the 28th over of India’s innings in the first ODI on Sunday, and tell himself to latch onto the Hardik Pandya catch that he’d missed in the slips, much to the relief of those at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.
Taking nothing away from the brilliance that the right-hander unleashed, had that reprieve been erased from the Men in Blue’s time-line, they would’ve been 110/6 in 28.2 overs. And that scoreboard would have adequately underscored a malaise that has been plaguing them for quite some time; one that has been brushed under the rug by the barrage of success that has come India’s way: a misfiring middle-order.
This trip-up at the MA Chidambaram Stadium isn’t the only instance when India’s spine has taken time to straighten up after being subjected to pressure.
Ever since the Champions Trophy, there have been five 50-over clashes when India have required the services of Nos 4, 5, 6, 7 in one innings, including the first ODI against Australia. Their returns have been 507 runs at an average and strike-rate of 33.5 and 84.78.
Though these numbers may seem to be adequate on the surface, the removal of one particular outlier in this context, namely MS Dhoni, unravels a different story. In the aforementioned five clashes, India’s crisis man has ratcheted up 240 runs at an average and strike-rate of 120 and 75.47.
Remove Dhoni from the equation, and three-fourth of India’s backbone has only 267 runs to show for their toil, at an average and strike-rate of 20.53 and 95.36. Despite the spike in the rate of run-scoring — the exclusion of Dhoni’s 114-ball 54 in North Sound is the reason — the 13-run dip per wicket sans the glovesman does indicate the existence of a problem.
If an overall statistical skim isn’t enough to highlight the gravity of what could assume the proportion of a major hindrance, two particular matches in the previous month serve as apt microcosms. Despite winning both ODIs in Kandy against Sri Lanka in August, the two matches were replete with middle-order capitulations that could’ve spiralled into a defeat.
While the first saw India lose five wickets for 17 runs before getting their act straight, the second witnessed them slip to 61/4 before Dhoni and Rohit Sharma saved the day. Even the clash after — the fourth ODI in Colombo — too showcased a similar stutter, this time a three-wicket, 12-run doddering.
Individual returns too don’t paint a pretty picture. KL Rahul batted at Nos 3, 4, and 5 in three matches in Sri Lanka, and eked out 28 runs. Kedar Jadhav too was shunted around in the island nation and had lukewarm numbers in the form of 64 runs.
With 10 more ODIs left for India at home in the next few months, time perhaps may help remedy this problem. Former India batsman Lalchand Rajput shares the line of thought.
“We’ve still got a couple of years to go till the next World Cup. Hence, this is the right time-frame for India to build up their team and look for options. You’ve got (Manish) Pandey, Rahul and Kedar as options, and all these players should be given enough rope to prove themselves, rather than be judged on the basis of one or two games,” he explained.“In that context, the management has done a fantastic job. A longer rope will help them establish themselves. Once this happens, we’ll have a set of players who’ll know what their roles are.”