On Wednesday, though, we saw the fluent, flowing Kl Rahul one is accustomed to seeing when he piles on the runs in domestic cricket to ensure his relevance to the national setup.
Nine months, and four matches. When was the last time India had gone as long without an ODI win at home? That’s right, the Men in Blue – the world’s second-ranked team in the format, and arguably its strongest force this decade – had lost their last four one day internationals on Indian soil: three-in-a-row to concede a five-match series against Australia (after having been 2-0 up) in March, and the opening game against West Indies, at Chennai, on Sunday.
The answer to that question, for those interested, is 14 years – the last time India lost as many as four successive ODIs at home was in April 2005, against Pakistan. They hadn’t lost five in a row at home even once in this century; indeed, you would have to go as far back as January 1988 for the last instance of a worse streak.
The unwanted run was snapped, in some style, at Visakhapatnam on Wednesday. A supreme batting display, led by Rohit Sharma’s 159 and KL Rahul’s 102, saw India rack up 387/5 – their second-highest ODI total in the last five years, and joint eighth-highest overall – before a Kuldeep Yadav hat-trick saw West Indies bowled out for 280.
The 107-run margin of victory reads comfortably, but for a brief while in the West Indian run-chase, with Nicholas Pooran going hell-for-leather, the nerves were beginning to fray a bit. The giant total, however, proved too daunting in the end, setting the teams up for what will be a series-decider on Sunday at Cuttack.
The key talking points from India’s win over West Indies in the second ODI at Visakhapatnam:
Rahul shuts out the surround sound
“I’ll let it stay a mystery,” said KL Rahul when asked about his century celebration by Ian Bishop during the innings break. Given the year he’s had, it isn’t all-that-mystifying to decode what the 27-year-old meant as he shut out his ears with both his hands upon reaching the three-figure mark for the third time – and for the first time in an ODI at home.
For Rahul, 2019 began with that fiasco over a cup of coffee. Redemption appeared to be on its way when he lapped up the role of makeshift opener at the World Cup with aplomb, finishing the tournament with 361 runs from nine innings. Shortly after that, ahead of India’s home season, he found himself ousted from the Test squad, following which he had to make peace with a switch back to makeshift mould in limited overs cricket as back-up to the first-choice Shikhar Dhawan.
Rahul’s well-compiled 104-ball 102 at Vizag enables the patching up of a thus-far tetchy record at home in ODIs: in a brief sample of five prior games, he had only mustered 56 runs. On Wednesday, though, we saw the fluent, flowing Rahul one is accustomed to seeing when he piles on the runs in domestic cricket to ensure his relevance to the national setup.
He’ll be glad the fortunes have turned in his favour as 2019 draws to a close – Rahul found himself back as India’s limited overs opener for this assignment only because of another Dhawan injury.
In the T20Is, he proved why many reckon he ought to be the first-choice partner for Rohit Sharma; Rahul’s 40-ball 62 and 56-ball 91, even if second on both days to what Virat Kohli did, were instrumental in India’s two wins. If he adds another sizeable contribution at Cuttack, he will find himself making all the right noises for an ODI push too.
All this, while cancelling out all the rest of the noise.
Crisis at number four? What crisis at number four?
Shreyas Iyer’s last four ODI innings, all against West Indies, read 71 off 68, 65 off 41, 70 off 88 and 53 off 32.
Sure, West Indies aren’t the strongest ODI opposition around the world. But sample the composition of these four innings: a textbook strike-rotation manual to keep things ticking; a cracking, momentum-shifting cameo to turn a 7.5-per-over chase into a cakewalk; a measured vigil to amend a faltering start; a tee-off to take a potentially very good score to a giant match-winning one.
Sounds like all the different roles you would want your ideal middle-order bat to fill out, doesn’t it? Iyer has batted all of nine times in ODIs so far, and he has six half-centuries to his name – and a strike rate of 104.92.
If only India had chanced upon him during that nationwide hunt for a World Cup number four, right? Rest assured, Iyer will be getting enough and more chances to set that right.
It’s not been easy being Rishabh Pant off late. And given the gargantuan, double-role gloves he’s stepping into, it probably never will be. Too much gets said and written, and will continue to be said and written, about a guy who only turned 22 a couple of months ago.
But let’s just focus at the data, and not the surround sound – the ‘controllable’, as his skipper would say, that Pant, he’d himself admit, hasn’t been controlling all too well.
Before West Indies came to town, four T20I appearances through the home season had seen Pant return 56 runs off 60 balls. The scores read 4(5), 19(20), 27(26), 6(9); not the kind of returns you expect from someone touted as a potentially generational talent.
You saw a glimpse of restraint, even responsibility, as he quelled his instincts through an unbeaten 33 off 22 balls in the second T20I at Trivandrum. You saw a greater modicum of reality, Pant’s admission of there being “nothing called natural game” in the post-match presser after his 69-ball 71 in the first ODI at Chennai.
But on Wednesday, through a barely 20-minute stay at the crease where he faced all of 16 deliveries, you were smacked with a dash of all that makes him, unquestionably, the most exciting batsman to be coming out of the Indian stables.
When ‘good’ Pant starts peeping through over the other version, even if so briefly, you begin to see where all the faith comes from.
Kuldeep returns; ‘Kul-Cha’ reunion soon?
If we’re speaking of tough recent pasts for young Indian talent – as we have in two of the three cases above – Kuldeep Yadav deserves a bit more sympathy than he has been getting.
Since bursting upon the scene in 2017 till the early parts of the year, India’s first international chinaman bowler had been living a dream, particularly in the 50-over game: 86 wickets in 40 innings, an average of 20.63, an economy of 4.83.
Then, from the fourth ODI of the home series against Australia in March till Sunday’s series opener against West Indies, came a prolonged patch to forget: 11 wickets from 12 games, an average of 52.90, an economy of 5.33. Through this 12-game slump, Kuldeep didn’t once produce a three-for – something he had achieved 17 times in his first 40 attempts. In between, there was also a wretched IPL campaign that brought along just four wickets in nine games.
On Wednesday, the elusive three-for arrived – and in one go at that. He only just turned 25, and Kuldeep is now one of six men to have taken multiple hat-tricks in ODIs – and the only Indian with more than one hat-trick in international cricket.
After Vizag, sympathy isn’t what Kuldeep will be getting – he will be getting chances, merited chances. What he will probably be waiting for, now, is the return of the two-card trick that won India ODI series in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand in the year leading up to the World Cup; the lack of wickets for India’s finger-spinners in limited overs in recent months surely increases the clamour for ‘Kul-Cha’ 2.0.
Butter-fingers: A slippery slope?
Winter has kicked in, full and fearsome, in several parts of India; the way things stand, the Indian team management wouldn’t be too concerned – because, at the moment, it would appear India might find it difficult to catch a cold.
That’s such a harsh assessment of a unit that has been so darned good at putting the extra yard or ten in the field, evidenced even on Wednesday by Iyer’s magical effort to run Shimron Hetmyer out. But there will be serious groans of discontentment in the team management – outside of Kohli’s manic moans on the field – given the events of this limited overs bout with West Indies.
Through the T20I series, India dropped as many as nine catches – five in the opener at Hyderabad, followed by two each at Trivandrum and Mumbai. In the first ODI at Chennai, even discounting a tough one that Rohit Sharma couldn’t hold on to, Iyer was guilty of missing a sitter.
At Vizag, Rahul shelved a very catchable nick from Shai Hope, before Deepak Chahar let slip an absolute dolly off Nicholas Pooran. On the day, it only cost India statistically; on another day, without the benefit of 387 runs on the board, it could easily have cost India the game.
This is another ‘controllable’ of this sport, and India have been pretty damn good at controlling it. They should know better than to let slip.
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The former Pakistan leg-spinner wasn't impressed with Pant's leadership skills during India's T20I series against South Africa at home.
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