Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli have all made meaningful contributions with the bat but they haven't quite clicked as a unit in the T20I series against Australia.
India began their home season, as well as their preparations for the T20 World Cup, on a confident note, bouncing back from a stunning loss against Australia in Mohali to take the next T20Is in Nagpur and Hyderabad. And with it, yet another home bilateral series win, one that surely has brought joy back in the lives of Indian cricket supporters after the disappointment of failing to defend their Asia Cup crown.
Captain Rohit Sharma and coach Rahul Dravid will no doubt be pleased with the number of boxes that have been ticked in the series that concluded with India’s six-wicket win in Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium.
Both Rohit and fellow batting superstar Virat Kohli have regained their old touch and are starting to hit their strides ahead of the big event Down Under. Suryakumar Yadav has been magnificent with his 360-degree strokeplay and certainly has sealed the No 4 spot for himself. Hardik Pandya’s stocks have only risen since his successful captaincy debut in the IPL earlier this year and Dinesh Karthik appears to be doing a fairly good job as a pinch-hitter lower down the order. And let’s not forget Axar Patel slotting in wonderfully for the injured Ravindra Jadeja. The left-armer was clearly the best bowler in the three-match series.
Areas of concern
The 2-1 series victory however, doesn’t hide some areas of concern for the Men in Blue. Their death bowling — with special focus on Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s form — is a major cause for concern in the build-up to the World Cup that starts in less than a month’s time. Indian bowlers getting walloped from the 17th over onwards was one of the key reasons behind their downfall in the Asia Cup and little appears to have been done in this series, especially in the decider at Uppal where Australia ended up posting 186 when the likelihood of restricting them to a total in the range of 160 seemed likely.
While the bowling department is expected to hog the spotlight for the negative reasons for a while, at least till India take on South Africa in their next limited-overs assignment at home, an area of concern that isn’t as widely discussed is their top-order. And this despite the likes of Rohit, Virat and KL Rahul all having registered fifty-plus scores in the series.
It’s one thing for batters to click individually, and full credit to the aforementioned trio for rising to the occasion when the team needed them to fire. Whether it was Rahul’s 55 in Mohali followed by Rohit’s unbeaten 46 at Nagpur and Kohli’s match-winning 68 in the decider, they all highlighted their ability to turn the game on its head. Both Rohit and Kohli had arrested the slide in their batting form with whirlwind knocks in the Asia Cup and have successfully carried it over into this series and starring in successful chases. Rahul too looked like a million bucks in some of the shots he played at the IS Bindra Stadium in the series opener on Tuesday.
Not firing as a unit
The problem however, lies in the inability of the top order to click as a unit, thereby forcing the middle order to step up and bail them out every single time. A problem that the Indian team certainly isn’t unfamiliar with especially in the limited-overs formats.
In Mohali, both Rohit and Kohli departed without making much of an impact, the latter facing seven deliveries for his contribution of two runs. At Nagpur’s VCA Stadium, Rahul and Kohli got starts, collecting the odd boundary or six, but couldn’t provide Rohit the support he needed to steer India towards the 91-run target in the rain-curtailed game. And Rahul was gone in the very first over at Uppal, never looking settled in the four balls he faced for just one run, while the skipper perished while playing an ambitious shot after getting off to a promising start.
Rahul, for one, appeared to have regained the faith of the team management with back-to-back fifties in the shortest format this month, but his last two outings would have woken up critics, who will once again be questioning his role as an opener and rekindling the debate of Kohli walking out to open alongside the captain.
Had it not been for SKY and Hardik’s roaring form with the bat, well as the finishing touch provided by DK, the series could have headed in a very different direction. And as worrisome their bowling performance is, it is top-order failures that have contributed towards some of India’s most heart-breaking defeats in recent history, whether one looks at the 2017 Champions Trophy final, the 2019 ICC World Cup semi-final or the defeats against Pakistan and New Zealand in the group stage of last year’s T20 World Cup.
The last thing Team India would want is for a repeat of those disasters in some of the big matches to come, whether their opening clash of the T20 World Cup against Pakistan in front of a packed Melbourne Cricket Ground or one of the knockout matches later in the tournament. India have been starved of success in ICC and other multi-nation events in recent years and fixing this area of concern could go a long way in ending that long wait.
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