Flat on a flat deck. Despite Ashton Turner’s heroics that paled centuries by India’s Shikhar Dhawan and his own compatriot Peter Handscomb in the fourth one-day international on a high-scoring night at the PCA Stadium in Mohali, the thought which had been lurking in the recesses of the mind sprang forth in the final half hour of the game.
It is not often that a team sees an opening pair put on 193 with one batsman scoring 143 to spur the score past 350 and still end up losing with 13 deliveries to spare. It was a night on which the flat deck rendered the Indian attack flat too. Even its famed death bowling specialist duo of Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar could not stop Turner from running away with the game.
The Indian attack that bursts with fizz on pitches that offer its bowlers the slightest of help was rendered lacklustre on Sunday. It is not the first time, indeed. But skipper Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri will lead those hoping that the bowlers will overcome even the toughest of tasks of handling a dew-laden cricket ball.
Kohli did well not to train his thoughts on the hapless bowlers during the post-match presentation. He spoke of the missed chances – stumping and catches – and even of a DRS decision that went against the team’s expectations. He was gracious in praising the Australian batsmen who had engineered the biggest chase against India.
Yet, some criticism of the bowlers is warranted, though they were hampered towards the end of the chase by having to bowl with a dew-laden ball. And with the batsmen backing their intent with an array of strokes, it was indeed hard for the bowlers, especially the spinners, to curb them. Despite that, Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were expected to stop the Australians.
It was almost as if they had not found the best line and length against a marauding batsman. The quest for a yorker with a dewy cricket ball would lead to full tosses and the bid to bowl a knuckle ball would end up being a half-tracker. Length balls were dispatched to the long-on region. And there was the audacious scoop over fine-leg.
Along the way, Virat Kohli might have realised that he could have squeezed an extra over or two from Vijay Shankar on a track that offered Kedar Jadhav more challenges than it did for the specialist spin bowlers. It is not just the 19-run 33rd over that swung the momentum Australia’s way but also the ineffectiveness of Yuzvendra Chahal with the ball that hardly obeying him.
It is just possible that Kohli missed Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s counsel on the field. Besides better glove-work than young Rishabh Pant, Dhoni would have pushed for Shankar’s medium-fast bowling to be pressed into service for an extra over or two. Of course, Chahal picked up Peter Handscomb’s wicket with a smart piece of bowling but he was way too expensive.
There was no doubt that India needed to pick up more than the two wickets with the new ball if it was to insure itself against the adverse impact of the dew that would set in later in the innings. But the Indian bowlers found Usman Khawaja and Handscomb’s determination too strong to slip past through nearly 30 overs after Shaun Marsh was sent back by Bumrah.
Not a few will point at the assault that Turner launched to suggest that he could lend some muscle to Australia’s middle-order batting. Superb as it was to watch, Turner’s blitz was possible only because his team had not lost too many wickets going into the last third of its innings. And that was entirely the handiwork of Khawaja and Handscomb.
The 192-run third-wicket stand benefitted from the fact that India took its foot off the pedal, giving the pair the opportunity to play all of the 10 overs of the fifth-bowler combination. Kuldeep Yadav-Chahal pair bowled in tandem for the first time when the partnership was worth 93 runs and only after Shankar and Jadhav had bowled eight overs combined.
The task of bowling on a flat deck is not the easiest. The challenges get compounded by having to deal with well-set batsmen. And it was not until the 34th over that Bumrah returned and bounced Khawaja out. With the spinners likely to be rendered quite ineffective despite Kuldeep snaring Maxwell, India should have engaged Shankar to bowl a few overs.
For all that, the hiding the Indian bowlers received at the hands of Turner in the frenetic chase presents the coaching staff, notably bowling coach Bharat Arun, the opportunity to introspect and add layers of knowledge. The Indian bowlers must be better prepared with plans for the next occasion when dew adds to their degree of difficulty on a flat track.
There must be a simpler plan that the think-tank can find for the bowlers to execute when having to deliver with a cricket ball whose seam is greasy. It should not need the fast-medium bowlers to try the entire bagsful of variation at their disposal. Even if a batsman is shuffling around the crease, there will be a simple line of attack that bowlers must stick to.
There is no doubt that this bowling attack, with Mohammed Shami as the wicket-taking third fast-medium bowler, is among the best in the business. Indian fans will be hoping that the next time the attack is rendered flat on a placid strip come only after 14 July this year. It is just as well that the bowlers’ nightmare on Sunday has come as an early warning signal.
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