24th May: Mumbai Indians v R. Royals, 14:30 GMT
24th-28th May: 2nd Test, Headingley
One really didn’t expect any other outcome going into the first two ODIs of the short series between India and West Indies. 1-1 seems to be an even equation at the moment, for both teams did just about enough to win the games they did. But it is the manner in which India approached the two games that is quite worrying, especially in the second match.
Seven down for 250 runs, with ten overs remaining and around 80-odd runs needed in the first ODI and the Indian team appeared to switch themselves off. So much so that a 44-run 8th wicket partnership between Dinesh Ramdin and David Bernard finally woke them up from their slumber to register a close win. That the Indian skipper himself admitted as much just goes to show that the team isn’t willing to learn from its mistakes easily. Hardly two weeks ago, the same team got the better of the Indians when they presumed that with the fall of Chris Gayle, the Super Eight game had been won and forgot about the rest of the batsmen.
What’s more another problem surfaced. The short ball has long been a scourge of Indian batting but over the last few years or so, this wasn’t really the case. All of a sudden, England successfully bounced India out of the T20 World Cup and every one is starting to take note. The first ODI saw Gautam Gambhir struggling to keep a pull down, á la the tournament in England and one only hopes this is but a glitch in his curve.
It may yet prove out to be so for in the second ODI, Gambhir was out chasing a wide delivery moving away. More than anything it suggests that the players are mentally tired for had it been the Gambhir we have seen in the last fifteen months, surely we would have seen better judgment on his part. Too much of anything is bad for health and excess cricket is now showing its venom as the players are not able to remember the mistakes they made, and more importantly correct them.
For that explains why Rohit Sharma is now struggling all of a sudden. The first week of the English trip saw him in the best form of his life so far, yet everything went away as quickly as it had come to him. A similar story can be told of Ashish Nehra, though one bad game is a bit too early to judge him. However, the trip is a short one and hasty conclusions will be drawn when the selectors sit down next time to select an Indian team.
So far in this series, the bright spark has been provided by Yuvraj Singh. His innings in the first ODI goes to show how much he has evolved as India’s main stay in the middle order. At the same time, the second ODI shows how much he still has to learn. While he is no doubt the player around which the Indian batting will revolve in the next decade, he has to understand the price of discretion. That chip shot over square leg for six will be the easiest, and laziest, shot he will ever play. Yet it got him maximum, and so while his mates were having problems coming up to the pace and swing of Ravi Rampaul, he was relatively easy at the crease, scoring at will. Understanding his advantage at that moment, had he stayed at the crease curbing his natural game, by say ten percent, it would have made a different script for that game.
Natural game is a phrase abused to a great extent in Indian cricket. Every time something goes wrong, blame it on the natural instinct and every other time, when it doesn’t go right again put the blame on the lack of it. So decide now, was that Dhoni’s natural game in the second ODI?
For a long time now Dhoni takes a bit to get going yet his figures haven’t dipped at all. In fact his approach has paid rich dividends for the team. And going by that standard, his 95 was a master class and arguably his best innings by far in ODI cricket. Yes, he has played those blistering knocks where the white cherry disappears over the rope umpteen times but any one can do that. What every other player can’t do is buckle down and play out nearly forty-five overs when others around you are in a hurry to get back to the confines of the dressing room. Whoever said Dhoni doesn’t deserve a place in the side just on his batting, surely needs to learn a thing or two about cricket.
Looking ahead, the Indian team has to realize that West Indies at home is always a different proposition than playing them elsewhere. More so in the longer formats of the game, vis-à-vis the ODIs and Tests, where the duo of Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnaraine Chanderpaul come into their own. For some time now, the Windies have had a settled line up in the ODIs and with new names surfacing from the shortest version, this could really be a team on the upswing and may just go on to show that their semi-final appearance in the 2009 T20 World Cup was no flash in the pan.
The predicament now for the Indian team is that they need to make some changes for the next two games and they need to get their moves right. The bowling has to show a bit more teeth and the batsmen a lot more application. Yes, Dhoni may have read the pitch wrong but that doesn’t give the batsmen any excuse for forgetting that they have to use footwork to negate the moving ball.
It is but a question of three days when they have to get themselves up and running to outperform the hosts and, even the T20 loss would be forgotten such is the memory of the average Indian fan. Then they would be able to spend the next six weeks in relative calm, probably diverting attention to other follies, say adverts, sponsorships or even getting hitched like Irfan Pathan. Now isn’t that incentive enough?
© Cricket World 2009