When will the woes of the Indian cricket team abroad end? Not very soon going by recent events. The defeat at Hamilton not only means that winning the ODI series against New Zealand is next to impossible, it has also led to India being dislodged from the No 1 spot in the ICC rankings.
MS Dhoni and his men will have to get their act together fast for otherwise the slide could well continue as South Africa, Sri Lanka and England are snapping at their heels. But at the moment there seems to be no end to their woes for not only are there problems in batting and bowling, the rigid stance of the team management in carrying on with the same combination - when there is a crying need for changes and the weeding out of non-performers - is detrimental to the side’s chances.
The defeat in the first ODI at Napier called for at least a couple of changes. Astonishingly the same combination was picked for Hamilton. This was clearly asking for trouble and indeed the failures came a cropper again. There are five others in the squad and before they are certified as being on a tourist visa it is better they are drafted into the playing eleven.
They are Varun Aaron, Amit Mishra, Ambati Rayudu, Stuart Binny and Ishwar Pandey. It’s about time they are given a break for the visitors certainly cannot fare any worse. Optimistically a couple of them could prove to be inspiring selections.
It is clear that both the batting and the bowling has been found wanting in New Zealand – as also in South Africa where the Indians lost the first two ODIs and could well have gone down in the third had rain not interfered. The smug Indian cricket follower however was confident that the team would do better in New Zealand simply because of the gap in the rankings – India were No 1, the home team No 8.
Even granting the disparity was narrowed, given the fact that India were playing away and New Zealand are difficult to defeat at home, a 0-2 verdict after the first two matches would not have been predicted by many cricket experts.
For starters, Aaron should take the place of Ishant Sharma who is extremely lucky to be in New Zealand. Binny is another contender because of his utility qualities while it is time that Rayudu is tried out in the middle order. A leg spinner always adds variety to the attack and perhaps Mishra could be the one to tie the free scoring Kiwi batsmen in knots.
Where can they all be fitted in? First, remove Ishant. Second, drop Ravichandran Ashwin. The off spinner might have an outstanding haul at home but his away record is abysmal. Third, break up the Rohit Sharma – Shikhar Dhawan pairing that is getting exactly nowhere. Push Ajinkya Rahane up the order and bring in Rayudu as his replacement. Drastic situations call for drastic decisions and the situation now is crying for a metamorphosis.
And yes, Dhoni must change his policy of fielding first after winning the toss. I guess this has a lot to do with his pet theory that India are better off chasing and perhaps this is true when it comes to home games. In many ways there is a lot to be said about batting first and setting an imposing target – which the Indians are capable of doing. Under pressure, having been set huge targets in the first two ODIs, the Indians almost pulled it off. Without pressure, the Indians will be that much more comfortable setting a formidable target.
Yes, it better be a formidable target for the Kiwis are a strong batting unit. In the disappointment of the twin defeats, let us not overlook the fact that New Zealand have several batsmen who are clean, big hitters. We are all familiar with the deeds of Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, Jesse Ryder, Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum. But the Kiwis have unearthed a real gem in Corey Anderson who hits the ball with awesome power as his 17-ball 44 at Hamilton underlined.
The 74 runs he added with Taylor in just 4.4 overs of dazzling batsmanship at Hamilton was the turning point of the match as far as I am concerned. There could be no recovery for India following that demolition and of course it also underlined a perennial Indian problem – bowling in the death overs.
Also it is not a bad bowling line-up too that the Indians have to contend with and particularly at home they can cause a lot of bother with their pace, hostility, swing and adroit use of the seam. A line-up that includes Kyle Mills (or Adam Milne), Tim Southee and Mitchell McClenaghan is not one to be sneezed at.
The left handed McClenaghan in particular is a bowler that needs watching for the extra nip he achieves off the surface can cause problems for the best of batsmen. And to add to all this, Anderson has displayed his knack of picking up crucial wickets with his left arm medium pacers.
India need to come up with a surprise or two to ambush this bunch and that is why the team management have to make changes in a last ditch effort to keep the series alive at Auckland on Saturday. And it is imperative that Dhoni opt to bat should he win the toss.