It is a relief that the BCCI stuck to its decision to send Sachin to Australia to prepare for the tour that could probably be his last Down Under, rather than have him play the remaining two ODIs against the West Indies. We will be spared of another round of Media blitz regarding his 100th international century, at least for a few weeks!
If anything, the West Indies have shown they still have a kick left in them despite the pasting they received in the Test series and the opening two ODIs by winning at Motera, though courtesy some schoolboy cricket by the Indians. Barring the resourceful Rampaul, none of the Windies bowlers could be classified as threatening, that too on the flat sub-continental pitches. That the Indians still contrived to lose wickets throws up a few questions with no easy answers.
India have to sort out top-order batting woes
For sure, Raina has been disappointing with his continued failures and not all of them due to any top class bowling, but rather his own impetuosity that has only created a big hole in the Indian middle-order. Hopefully, it is only an aberration, for Raina is too good a player in the shorter version to be simply cast away.
Likewise, the inconsistency if not failure of the top order, Sehwag, Patel and Gambhir, have only added to India's woes that were exposed in Ahmedabad, but masked by the batting of Kohli and Rohit in the previous two games. Hopefully, it is just a passing phase and the Sehwag-Gambhir partnership as an opening pair should never be broken unless to accommodate Sachin.
There is already an intense debate over reshuffling of the batting order with calls for Sehwag and Gambir partnership to be restored gaining in stridency. It would mean that Patel is moved down the order without disturbing No.3 (Kohli), 4 (Rohit) and 5 (Raina), while coming in ahead of the bowlers.
While on the subject of a reshuffle, quite the best news has been the return of Irfan Pathan who I believe is the all-rounder that the Indian team is looking for, and certainly not Ashwin. The Chennai player's century in the Test series gave rise to a lot of talk about emergence of an all-rounder, but honestly, I don't see any merit in such speculation.
It has always been Irfan who looked the part as an all-rounder and would have developed further but for coach Chappell who needlessly tinkered with him by converting him into a ''pinch hitter''. It was a move that had failure written all over it, but worse was that it left Irfan confused as to whether he should focus on his batting or bowling. In the process, Irfan lost confidence and with that form. Before long, he lost his place in the Indian team.
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Thus, his return to the team even if it is for just the two ODIs, is to be welcomed. I think, Irfan is at the cross-roads of his cricketing career and deserves all the support so that he will regain confidence besides the form of the old. It is to be hoped that Indian team is rid of this crazy theory of pinch-hitter and stick to the basics.
It is just as well that the Board is flying out the core group of players to Australia well in advance. The likes of Sachin, Dravid and Laxman, will surely appreciate this move, for I do not see them touring Australia again with the Indian team. Dravid marked his final tour of England with a pair of centuries and perhaps, the trio would like to do much the same in Australia.
Meanwhile, if the Indian team plays to potential, then I expect them to wrap up the ODI series 4-1. The current Windies team is brimming with enthusiasm, but most of their players are still rather raw in terms of international cricket and it would be a huge surprise if the series goes down to the wire.