India’s terrific chase down of a stiff target in the Indore ODI is a reason to rejoice. It confirms that the team is a step closer to forging into a formidable one-day unit.
The successful pursuit revealed that the team has the ability to not only defend a target, but also chase it down and this presents the captain with more options.
The most pleasing aspect is the substantiation that the batting is equipped technically and psychologically to mount a chase.
Make no mistake, batting second is never easy. The pressures that it imposes on batsmen could be excruciating. This is one reason why captains on many occasions simply opt to bat first.
The pressure on batsmen increases when confronted with a big target. In fact, it defines one of the huge challenges of ODI cricket. This is so unlike T20 cricket when batsmen are expected to simply go ‘bang, bang’ from the start. ODI batting calls for a lot more finesse.
A chase is a major test of temperament. Of course there is plenty of skill involved. But champion batsmen 'with ice in their veins' can skilfully handle the pressures of a chase. The onus is not just on keeping an eye on the scoring rate, but also preserving wickets.
The runs-to-balls ratio, particularly at the death, is vital. Only the best of batsmen can successfully pull off big shots in crunch situations in an attempt to keep that ratio in control and put the pressure right back on opposition bowlers. This is the reason only some batsmen are described as “having the head for a chase”.
Virat Kohli, a master finisher, is quoted as saying, “I’m not too bothered about run rates at the start of my innings. I look to settle down but at the same time scamper for quick runs. I know if I’m there later I can make up for any slow run rate by going for attacking strokes.”
Actually there are two key issues in successful run chases. The first is not only the quality of the batsman, but also the calibre of supporting players. The second, of course, is the number of deliveries available in relation to the target.
No batsman, however good he may be, can consistently pull off wins if the supporting batsmen are not accomplished in keeping their wickets intact, rotating strike and responding to calls for sharp singles and twos.
Of course it goes without saying that the more 'finishers' a team packs, the better its chances are in a big chase.
It is in this context that India’s performance at Indore was commendable. They had a Rohit Sharma at the top to set the pace and take the fight to the new ball bowlers. He was very well supported by Ajinkya Rahane. The latter is not as gifted, but certainly played a wonderful part in the partnership.
Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni are accomplished finishers and could be expected to pull the fat out of fire on most occasions. But what turned out to be a pleasant revelation was the fearless batsmanship of young Hardik Pandya.
Hardik was sent up the order to target left-arm spinner Ashton Agar and he did the job really well. He pummeled him for four huge sixes without ever seeming anxious. Hardik struck the ball cleanly and not desperately. Additionally, he also ran well with Kohli and later with Manish Pandey.
Pandey, too, is a good batsman to have in a chase like he proved in Sydney, Australia last year where his century took India home.
The bottom line is that more finishers are a boon to a team.
This came to the fore during Dhoni’s finest hour, the World Cup final against Sri Lanka in 2011. Chasing a huge target, India lost both Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar cheaply to Lasith Malinga before Gautham Gambhir (97) and Kohli (35) steadied the ship. Dhoni promoted himself, controlled the innings and finished the match in style.
His unbeaten 91 off 79 deliveries and two key partnerships with Gambhir and Yuvray Singh saw India home.
It was a tremendous performance alright. But it also highlighted the importance of having more than one batsman capable of blunting the opposition.
Successful teams of the past (Australia — Michael Bevan, Ricky Ponting, Mathew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist; Sri Lanka — Tilekaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardane, Kumara Sangakkara; India — Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Kohli) have shown how important it was to have more than one bow in the quiver.
The present Indian team lacks a powerful striker of the ball like Yuvraj. But it is possible that Hardik could become that person.
Importantly, in Rohit, Shikhar Dhawan, Kohli, Dhoni and now Hardik, there is some muscle in the Indian lineup. Hopefully this should lead to plenty of rejoicing when the team visits distant shores — South Africa, England and Australia — in the coming months.