So India’s third tour to Australia in four years has failed to bring any better luck. Quite contrary, the more we tour Australia more pain and agony it brings to the captain and coach. This time, even after scoring 5 centuries in 4 consecutive matches, India has failed to win a single match. I don’t remember this happening ever before.
This debacle in the limited overs format is not sudden though. There are a lot of voices calling for the end of MS Dhoni’s leadership tenure but the fact is with this critically imbalanced side, even Virat Kohli at the helm will not be able to change the outcome anytime soon. When your most experienced bowler sends down 8 wides then there is not much you can do as a captain.
Everyone knows that our bowling has not been good enough for a long time. But what is more worrying is that there no one on the bench or in the domestic circle who looks good enough to replace the current lot. Mohamed Shami has been injured for almost a year now, but he is the only one who seems most likely to be classified as an “International” bowler. The fact that he has been replaced by Jaspreet Bumrah in the upcoming T20 series in Australia tells you the sorry state of India’s bowling resources. After Zaheer Khan, India has not produced any fast bowler who would automatically walk into the final XI of Indian team all the time across all formats. Even Bangladesh is good at producing good fast bowlers. Apart from Shami, India has been relying on Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Varun Aron, Mohit Sharma, and occasional debutants as pure fast bowlers. Unfortunately, none of these have the ability to perform for long periods. One may have a fantastic tournament where they could do no wrong but it is always followed by a string of mediocre performances. It was very refreshing to see India’s fast bowling in last year’s World Cup, but since then everyone is desperate for a repeat performance even for a single match. And their ‘learning curve’ just doesn’t seem to end! Ishant Sharma is on an eight year learning curve.
It does not end there. Our lower order is the weakest I have ever seen. Dhoni, the captain, may not be responsible for this but Dhoni, the batsman, is. His last crucial innings was probably against Zimbabwe in WC 2015 when India was in a dangerous situation. After that he has disappointed as a batsman and more importantly as a finisher. Suresh Raina has a long-standing issue with short ball, Yuvraj has served for more than a decade and now seems past his prime while we will never know the real potential of Rayudu and Pandey who end up warming bench most of the time or get dropped altogether. It will become very interesting now that Pandey has scored a brilliant hundred and won India a match. India has also tried Binny as an all-rounder but that has not worked well at all. It’s too early to predict anything about Rishi Dhawan, but his panicky shot in the latest ODI doesn’t do him any good. Is Ravindra Jadeja a lower-order batsman or a borderline tailender?
You can see the stark difference in this series. In Melbourne Australia were in tricky situation with 6 wickets down and required rate over 6. But Faulkner stayed with Maxwell to finish the match. This is exactly opposite of when in Canberra India were cruising at 272/1 and looking set to chase down 348 only to be all out at 323. The biggest problem is Dhoni not emulating a Maxwell and Gurkeerat Singh, or Rishi Dhawan (or even Jadeja) don’t seem to match Faulkner either. There is so much overreliance on the top order and even if the top order fires, the lower order is so poor that we are still not certain to win matches. So Raina will probably be back in the next One Day series and it looks to be the end of the road for Gurkeerat and mostly Rishi Dhawan.
There seems to be no short term fix for this problem. India has always been a country where batsmen are idolized than bowlers. The organisers of domestic tournaments aren’t helping with the kind of pitches they have been dishing out. We have teenage kids who break records by scoring 600 then eclipsing it by scoring 1000 runs, but not a single noteworthy bowling performance comes to mind (with all due respect to Shardul Thakur who was sensational for Mumbai). To make matters worse, I do not know what kind of message we are giving by producing rank turners for International Test series in the name of ‘home advantage’. You might as well tell youngsters to either be a batsman or a good spinner to become professional cricketer in India. There does not seem a system to manage fast bowlers properly. Irfan Pathan or Munaf Patel are examples of mismanagement of talent. Australia has the best management practices when it comes to handling injuries and workload of their fast bowlers. I am sure Shami’s injury is more about excess workload than anything else. Even when he makes a comeback, I am not sure if we can manage him properly. So the BCCI and all is state associations have a long introspective period ahead of them if they want to improve the vast imbalance between bat and ball even by a bit.