It was just as well that the Kiwi fielders had butter fingers which helped Dhoni’s men to escape from jail and live to fight another day. And lest we forget, the cameos by Dhoni, Ashwin and Jadeja who rode on the dropped catches, ensured that India stayed alive in the five-match series after three games with Kiwis leading 2-0.
The thrilling tie notwithstanding, India were indeed more than just lucky to avert a certain defeat following yet another poor batting display by the top-order where the likes of Dhawan and Rohit Sharma were guilty of injudicious shots that nipped a promising start in the bud.
As in the previous two games, neither Rohit nor Dhawan appeared comfortable in conditions vastly different from the ones in India where the duo thrived with tons of runs. Raina too failed yet again and at a critical time in the match even as he looked good for a big innings.
No wonder Dhoni keeps lamenting the inability of his batsmen to build on good starts, thus putting rest under pressure. With the series still ‘live’, it is debatable whether the skipper would be tempted to juggle the batting and possibly bring on an all-rounder like Binny, replacing Aaron, a move that would certainly strengthen the middle order batting.
The problem for Dhoni is that he would need to persist with the Dhawan-Rohit combination at the top in the absence of a third specialist opener. To that extent, the captain’s options are limited and which in turn would mean that the pair will continue regardless of their repeated failures to provide solid starts.
In fact, barring Kohli (207 runs), the only centurion on the tour, and Dhoni (146), none of the specialist batsmen have grossed 100 runs in three matches. Dhawan has made only 72 to Rohit’s 62. Rahane too has struggled, totaling just 46 with a best of 36 in three innings. Raina has been slightly better with 84 runs.
Yet, it is unlikely that Dhoni would disturb the top order and he had publicly stated that he will not “experiment” during the current tour. However, the likes of Binny and Rayudu do deserve an opportunity or two, given the fact that both showed good form at home in the lead up to the series.
The other issue that refuses to go away is the bowling with Kiwis piling up big totals in each of the three matches so far with 292, 271 and 313, many of which have come at the fag end of the innings. When viewed in this light, a strong case can be made in favour of Binny as the third seamer along with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shami, especially since Ishant, projected as the ODI spearhead, is not in top form.
Likewise, Rayudu could come in for Rahane or even Raina, though I doubt if Dhoni would disturb his Super Kings mate who can still be counted upon to break partnerships with his off-breaks, and of course, fielding where he is second to none.
So far, the series has thrown up more frustration than any satisfaction from India’s perspective. If the top order batsmen have been found wanting against seam and movement, then the bowling has not been any better. So much so that barring the third game, the Kiwis have never been all out, losing seven wickets in each of the two previous games, and that has separated the two.
Perhaps, the Indians were a bit unlucky to lose the second game at Hamilton where the complicated Duckworth-Lewis method favoured the Kiwis. It left a lay person wondering why India, despite scoring more runs than the Kiwis, still lost the game! I am not a huge fan of the DL method precisely for this reason. It is to be hoped that the ICC will come up with better and simpler ways to decide a rain-affected match.
Regardless of how the series flows from here on, the Indians will be happier for the exposure at some of next year’s World Cup venues and they would be better off looking at the big picture (not the least the ICC World rankings) while obviously treating the current tour as part of the preparations for the big event where they will be the defending the title.