India’s 2-0 win over Ireland didn’t really resemble an international T20 series. For the hosts, it was a lesson. For the neutral, it was a gross mismatch. For the Indian fans living in Dublin, it was a chance to catch their heroes in action, up close and personal. For the Men in Blue though, it was like any other warm-up routine before an important overseas tour wherein they didn’t even hit the third gear.
Making the short leap over the Irish Sea to Manchester, the mood ought to change in the Indian dressing room and they need to ponder over a few points. For, England are a completely different beast, particularly in limited-overs’ cricket at the moment
1. Jasprit Bumrah’s injury exposes vital flaw
Over the past year or so, India have used only five pacers in limited-overs’ cricket. Two of them, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah played 26 out of 32 ODIs together. They also shared the new ball in 9 out of 18 T20Is. Statistics for the other pacers don’t measure up, though.
Among India’s current second choice pacers, Umesh Yadav last played ODI cricket in September 2017. When he featured in the second T20I against Ireland, it was only his second international T20 game since 2012.Meanwhile, Siddarth Kaul waited since December for his maiden game. The underlying point herein is about the lack of game time for the second line of attack.
Bumrah is a limited-overs’ specialist and he will be sorely missed. But replacing him has suddenly become a bigger task given the lack of recent match experience of those replacing him. At least it didn’t happen just before the 2019 World Cup, for that would have been a complete disaster
2. Nobody wants to bat in the middle order
One key advantage of the two-match series against Ireland was the time Indian batsmen were able to spend in the middle. Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Suresh Raina, all got half-centuries during the two innings. The problem is that they are all top-order batsmen.
For the moment, the team management doesn’t want to shuffle Rahul into the middle order. Similarly, Raina is slated to bat at No.3, as he has done for most of the T20Is played this year. In the second T20I, Rohit was moved down to no.4 but he failed to score a single run, making sure there was no debate about this move at all. It is almost as if no one wants to bat in the middle order, and this continues to be an evolving issue for the Indian team.
3. Virat Kohli needs big runs from the very beginning
The Indian skipper has only one blot on his otherwise already-illustrious career. The tour of 2014 where he failed to get going at almost every opportunity stands out in terms of struggle for a sub-continental batsman in alien overseas conditions. Kohli wanted to make up lost time and opted for a County stint, only for it to be cancelled at the last moment owing to a neck injury. He is all fit now, but the continuity of form has been broken. After a few weeks’ rest he has started off again, albeit not in the best manner.
In Ireland, against arguably one of the easiest attacks he will ever face in international cricket, Kohli managed 9 runs off 10 balls across two innings inclusive of a two-ball duck in the first T20I. It isn’t the way he would have liked to kick-start his second UK tour, but all is not lost just yet. There is a long way to go on this trip, and the limited overs’ leg in England is an apt opportunity. White ball, batsmen friendly wickets and no James Anderson, this should be a cakewalk for Kohli.
Only thing, he does really need to get big runs in the T20Is as well as the ODIs otherwise the English media (not to mention their Indian colleagues) will be all over him like a rash.
4. England’s batting might
Stretching back to June last year, India have kept coming up against opposition with deep batting problems. West Indies, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have all had their fair share of unresolved issues, and weren’t able to cope with pace, wrist spin, conditions or a combination of all those factors. Perhaps, only the Black Caps gave them any semblance of a contest, albeit thanks to their spinners reading Indian conditions well.
England though are a different adversary. They pack a serious punch when it comes to batting in the limited-overs’ formats, especially at home wherein pitches are now rolled out to suit batsmen, a departure from tradition.
Led by the adventurous Eoin Morgan, Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Alex Hales have regaled crowds everywhere they have played in recent times. And then there is Jos Buttler.
He is a familiar face to most Indian bowlers, after scoring 548 runs in 13 matches at strike-rate 155.24 for the Rajasthan Royals in the 2018 IPL. As a result, he was moved to open against Australia in the one-off T20 recently and he duly smacked England’s quickest-ever T20I half-century off 22 balls. Needless to say, he will be India’s greatest threat in a batting order that is bursting with aggression.
The author tweets @chetannarula