India’s batting needs more than a bit of pep, if indications in the rain-truncated first ODI vs West Indies at Port of Spain, Trinidad are anything to go by. Certainly some strategy needs to be reworked into a batting line-up that has nearly everything: left-right combinations, experience, youth, hard-hitters and steady run-getters.
The strategy to not lose wickets in the initial 10 overs and ensure that the middle and lower-order batsmen are not exposed to the challenges of playing the new ball (one new ball from each end is the prevailing rule) is the right one. Thus a score of 47 for no loss from the first 10 overs was par for the course.
But the batsmen’s performance after the first powerplay, that is between overs 11 and 40, would have set the tone for the final 10 overs and ultimately a good total.
In the past when Australia ruled the roost in ODIs, they had hit upon a strategy of trying to steal singles off every delivery and then having a late-order batsman launch an assault in the slog overs. This proved very handy during those days when bowlers relied a lot on reverse swing to counter big hitting. Australia thus enjoyed the best results before other teams cottoned on to the idea and later ODI rules underwent a sea change.
The current rules where only four fielders are allowed outside the circle, for the 30 overs between the 11th and the completion of the 40th overs, are seen as the period when batting teams would look to consolidate. It is during this period that teams try and squeeze out eight to 10 runs per over.
If batting teams score runs freely during this period, bowling teams would be forced to deploy their best bowlers, whom they would otherwise have saved for the slog. So there is a double bonus to be had there.
It is against this backdrop that India’s failure to push the scoring rate against West Indies ought to be seen.
Of course the West Indies bowlers, for all their inexperience, must be credited for their performance. Openers Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan could not do much when width was not offered. Their pattern of scoring was not the ideal one. The initial 10 overs brought 47 runs, which was acceptable. But the next 10 too were a struggle and only 49 runs were registered during the period.
The batsmen were well set and the Caribbean bowlers, well as they bowled, still sent down loose deliveries every now and then. Beyond capitalising on those, the openers did not show sufficient urgency.
It was obvious that the West Indies had done their homework. They tried to bowl tight lines without offering width to the openers. Leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo was outstanding. He bowled a lower trajectory and kept the ball on the wicket area. The batsmen were not adventurous enough to step out and get after him. His final analysis of 10-0-39-1 was brilliant considering that he was bowling to batsmen brought up on an excessive diet of spin bowling.
The manner in which the impressive pacer Miguel Cummins and young Alazari Joseph bowled on this slow pitch was also revealing. Cummins stunned Virat Kohli with a superb bouncer that had the latter fending. The ball slammed into Kohli’s gloved bottom hand and luckily fell out of any fielder’s reach.
At that time it seemed like the West Indies pacers wanted Kohli to hook early in the innings when he was yet to get his feet moving. But slowly a pattern emerged. They repeatedly bowled short to him and around the line of his off stump. Kohli does not play the ‘upper cut’ or any such ‘uncultured’ cricketing shot and was actually at his wits end to get the score board moving.
Dhawan looked to be increasing the tempo when he was dismissed by Bishoo. A mere 56 runs had come from the third lot of 10 overs — between the 21st and 30th overs.
It was during the 20 overs between the 11th and 30th over that India seemed to have lost the plot. The scoring rate was not impressive and they had lost two key wickets. With Kohli and Yuvraj Singh (4 off 10 balls) too struggling. the team was barely able to go at five runs an over.
It is possible that the batsmen would have exploded in the final 10 overs. But there is no getting over the fact that India need to get busy in the 30 overs between the 11th and 40 on a regular basis. A score of 199 for 3 in the 40th over against this inexperienced West Indies team fell short of expectations. It would have been interesting to see how the innings and match would have panned out had the rains not put an end to any on-field activity.