Prior to this series, India had conceded more than 370 only twice in ODIs. Only once before had the entire top-five of a team returned 50+ scores in the same ODI. Never before had India leaked over 100 for the first wicket in three successive ODIs. Never before had the entire top-three of a team returned 50+ scores in back-to-back ODIs.
And the last time India had lost five ODIs in a row in the same calendar year, Greg Chappell was the coach and Virat Kohli had barely turned 18.
The Indian ODI juggernaut — a win rate of 73% from the end of the 2017 Champions Trophy until the end of 2019 — has been crushingly halted in its tracks in 2020.
There’s a firm reasoning behind the chosen time-frame: it was in the aftermath of the bruising defeat to Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final of 2017 that India made a marked change in the direction their team was to take in the 50-over game.
The batting, while featuring a few changes in personnel through the period since, has largely worn a similar look, and yielded similar returns, all along. The bowling, however, has been the marked differentiator in the India of 2017-2019 and the India we’ve seen this year, either side of a pandemic-enforced break.
Yes, India had a much-vaunted sixth bowler to go to through the best of the 30-month golden run; but ask yourself an elementary question – was Kedar Jadhav deciding ODIs in India’s favour, or was it the weight and the wiles of the five frontline bowlers?
In the aforementioned period (post-CT 2017 until the end of 2019), India’s bowling average was the third-best among the top-10 teams, the economy rate was second only to Afghanistan, and the strike rate was second only to New Zealand.
In 2020? India are, by far, the worst in all three parameters. And the numbers make for painful reading.
Worst averages in 2020: India 58.88, Zimbabwe 50.58, New Zealand 43.73.
Worst economy rates in 2020: India 6.47, Zimbabwe 6.17, New Zealand 5.72.
Worst strike rates in 2020: India 54.5, Zimbabwe 49.1, New Zealand 45.8.
Forget the ‘sixth bowler’ for a bit; India’s five frontline bowlers, put together, have taken just 32 wickets in 304 overs this year — they’ve leaked 6.26 runs per over, conceded 59.47 runs per wicket and needed 57 balls per wicket.
What’s gone wrong?
No Boom, all bust
To say Jasprit Bumrah has had his worst year in ODIs would be the equivalent of saying 2020 was a mildly troubling year for the world.
Bumrah, pre-2020: 103 wickets in 58 games; economy 4.49, average 21.88, strike rate 29.2.
Bumrah, in 2020: Three wickets in eight games; economy 5.76, average 146.33, strike rate 152.3.
Through the ‘golden run’, Bumrah had returned 77 wickets in 42 games (economy 4.32, average 20.35). India had won 33 of those 42 games.
This year? Well, you know it already.
Weird as it may sound, this isn’t really a problem area for India; you know that a bowler of Bumrah’s best-in-class brilliance, surely, is going to revert to type sooner than later.
The real issue — and this runs deeper than just this year — is how miserably India’s stocks dwindle on their prime bowler’s off-days.
In a career spanning 66 matches, Bumrah has given away 60 or more runs only 10 times in ODIs. In these 10 games, the opposition team’s average score is 332. India have conceded above 350 in half these games, and kept the opponent under 300 only twice.
As world-class as Bumrah may continue to remain, India can’t turn off so badly every time their numero uno misses the mark.
Where’s the bite (read: the Bhuvi factor)
By now, you’re probably well aware of India’s powerplay misery (three powerplay wickets in eight matches this year, for the uninitiated).
It’s not a very recent phenomenon, either; since the start of 2019, India average more than 51 runs per every powerplay wicket — a figure better than only Scotland and Bangladesh.
One Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been missing through all of India’s 2020 ODI bowling travails. In 2019, he played 19 games and took 10 Powerplay wickets, while keeping the scoring down to 4.29 per over.
This year, Bumrah has managed to keep a check on the runs, going at 4.62 in the first 10 overs. But he’s not taken a single wicket.
Mohammed Shami is the only Indian pacer with a powerplay wicket in 2020, but he too has got just the two strikes — while leaking 6.29 per over.
The two other pacers trialled in the first 10 overs of the innings, Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur, have conceded 6.31 and 6.90 runs per over, respectively.
In all fairness, in the absence of any visible swing so far Down Under, it’s not like Kumar would have been likely to set things on fire either.
But would India have gone 0/281 in their last 50 overs of powerplay bowling across the Trans-Tasman? You’d think not.
The spin conundrum: Can’t not play Jadeja, can’t field KulCha
Bhuvi-Bumrah wasn’t the only bowling partnership sowing the seeds of India’s rampant run through that 2017-2019 period; there was one more pair, hunting, literally, as a pack, and forming the core of India’s most successful stretch of ODI performances.
Between them, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal picked up 178 wickets at a combined average below 26 during that run. In the 33 completed games where both featured in the XI, India lost only eight times.
Two pivotal events, however, forced India to change the course of their first-choice XI.
Even before the 2019 World Cup, Kuldeep’s wretched IPL campaign led to a dip in both stock and morale — and he hasn’t shown real signs of recovering ever since (ODI average of 53 this year, and one wicket in four innings in IPL 2020).
More vitally, after the World Cup, India lost the services of Hardik Pandya — a limbo that only forcibly went away at the SCG on Sunday, when the fears of total demolition compelled Virat Kohli to hand the ball to his recovering all-rounder, despite Kohli’s contrarian views less than 48 hours earlier.
Till the time Pandya the bowler makes a full-fledged return, India can’t field an XI without Ravindra Jadeja; till the time that holds, India can’t field an XI with both Kuldeep and Chahal.
Aside from being the only member of India’s present ODI setup who can bowl 10 overs regularly and contribute something of note with the bat, Jadeja offers containment in bowling that keeps his place safe — evidenced by an economy of 5.25 even during this annus horribilis of Indian bowling.
But what the wrist-spin twins offered at the peak of their partnership, the big differentiator for India, was a constant, genuine wicket-taking threat. It’s amply clear that Jadeja isn’t going to give you that — six wickets in 78 overs this year; a career strike rate of 65 away from home.
That’s the clincher. As things stand in the Indian ODI world, it’s not really there to be found.
For Bumrah to rediscover his mojo. For Kumar, and Pandya, to regain their fitness. For KulCha to be reunited, while rediscovering their combined mojo.
It might be a while.
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