Melbourne: There was something oddly satisfying about India’s victory in Adelaide. It could be seen in the manner Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli batted; in the confidence Suresh Raina exuded when sent in at number four despite playing a rusty innings; in the way skipper MS Dhoni played a 3-ball cameo before juggled around his bowling combinations.
These were the major highlights of that 37-run win. Then, there were the minor points. R Ashwin’s return to the eleven and his successful pairing with Ravindra Jadeja, squeezing the scoring rate in the middle overs and giving a preview of things to come in the next two months. An impressive day spent in the field, plus the pace bowlers rounding it up nicely, Adelaide Oval provided all the ticks to India’s boxes.
Yet, one swallow doesn’t make a summer, and there was an uncomfortable question for Dhoni to answer in the post-match press conference. “What happens when Ajinkya Rahane returns?” he was asked.
“We’ll wait and watch once he gets fit. Because that will only increase the problem, but I think it’s a good problem to have. All-rounders are important,” he replied. It was a vital answer pertaining to the team’s balance, and the importance of that last word cannot be underlined enough.
It has been some time now that the Indian team has been searching for this all-important equilibrium to their side, perhaps going back as far as the beginning of the home series against South Africa. With the rebuilding process for the 2019 World Cup underway already, it has become a vital question for the selectors and the team management.
There have been complexities in sorting out this problem, especially in the ODI arena. Shikhar Dhawan’s lack of runs for a while, and juggling of batting spots between Kohli and Rahane didn’t yield anything. Dhoni’s struggles and inability to bat at number four didn’t help. Raina’s poor run compounded matters further even as Ambati Rayudu faded to the sidelines. It is reasonable enough to present this as the sole reason for the T20Is and ODIs loss to South Africa at home.
The difference in conditions here in Australia posed a new challenge, even as the selectors tried to give a new direction to the ODI squad. The more interesting pointer about the Indian squads for this tour, however, was the return of the seniors for the T20Is. It sent out an obvious message; building ahead whilst keeping an eye out for the World T20. It is in this light that the 4-1 loss in the ODIs needs to be judged.
In Perth and Brisbane, India struggled on with two spinners. In Melbourne and Canberra, they made knee-jerk changes to the team that looked good on paper, but were devoid of experience on the field, of course. Never mind Manish Pandey’s scintillating maiden ton in Sydney, the Men in Blue were begging for some balance to their playing eleven.
In the build-up to this short T20 series then, both Dhoni and Ravi Shastri were very vocal about fielding the seniors – especially Yuvraj and Raina – in the first T20I itself. They expressed utter confidence in these returning players, both of who had been dropped for either form or fitness. There was just so much joy in their words, one could sense.
Obviously, the win only strengthened their belief. But look back at the ticks from that Adelaide match, and the ones pertaining to these two players somehow went missing, in particular Yuvraj. Sure, they lent solidity to the middle order, but barring Raina’s rusty outing, they weren’t really tested enough, thanks to Kohli’s knock.
Even Hardik Pandya could be included in the side as Dhoni had the cushion of bowling both Yuvraj and Raina if need be. And while the latter wasn’t needed, Yuvraj’s one over left a bit to be desired.
The underlying point here is not about nitpicking over what was otherwise a comprehensive win in Adelaide. Instead, it is about highlighting that the answers Dhoni, and the Indian team management, have been seeking.
Those questions went unanswered once again. From the first T20I, it couldn’t be ascertained whether Yuvraj and Raina had done enough to merit this call-up back to the T20 squad. It couldn’t yet be estimated that they could have done more to assure themselves of a spot in the World T20 squad.
And that is the bottom-line, for India’s run-up to that tournament has officially begun. The sole purpose of this series – and the recall of the senior pros therein – is for them to start exhibiting the necessary traits for a successful campaign at home. If not, the selectors can then focus energy towards alternates, for time will quickly run out. Only the three T20Is at home against Sri Lanka might be left for experimentation, for the squad picked for the Asia Cup (in Bangladesh) will assuredly be the one named for the World T20 later on.
Thus, it leaves five matches to zero in on what needs to be done. Using the potential balance their selection provides to the eleven, and the garb of victory in Adelaide, Yuvraj and Raina will play on in this current series, and maybe even further.
Even so, there is a pressing need for the team management to extract more out of them. Going forward, India needs to use both Yuvraj and Raina better to attain any degree of comfort in their World T20 preparation, before heading home.