Down, but not out
India’s dream run in the Cricket World Cup 2015 finally came to an end on 26 March! While the skipper and some of the players left Sydney on the morning of 27 March itself, the others left Australian shores for home by 28 March. After four long months down under, it was time to go back to familiar conditions. While on the upside, India won seven matches on the trot in the tournament and beat South Africa, Pakistan and the West Indies in the process; but on the downside, they failed to win a single game against Australia all summer. Despite a reasonable World Cup campaign, in fact some will say better than expected, issues still remain with the team in overseas conditions that need urgent addressing.
However, before stating this critical analysis I wish to state something in unequivocal terms. It is a cricket match and India has lost to a better team in their home conditions. Losing is no crime and unlike what a section of the televisual media in India will have us believe, there is no shame in getting defeated in a cricket match. The more important question is how do you pick up the pieces from here on and move forward? How do you address the drawbacks that impacted upon the team’s performance all summer, and how can such flaws be mended?
First, and most important, is the continuing problem with the number seven position in the one day format. Ravindra Jadeja as a batsman hasn’t done much to inspire confidence in overseas conditions. Unless he scores big, like James Faulkner for Australia for example, India will always have a problem with the lower middle order. Jadeja should realise he is a batsman and not a slogger, and someone needs to tell him as much. Maybe one in ten innings he will come off and that will give him a further few games to play, but from the team’s perspective we need a reliable number seven to be competitive overseas.
Second is the problem with Suresh Raina, against quality fast bowlers. Raina is one of the best we have and is an excellent player against lesser teams. He can get on top of the bowlers in conditions where the ball doesn’t bounce much, and has played some excellent one day knocks in the past. In the World Cup, Raina played a solid hand against Pakistan and also against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. However, against the two teams with very good fast bowling attacks, South Africa and Australia, he was found wanting. He was a failure in the Test series as well, and that raises serious questions about Raina at number five. Suresh Raina, more than anyone else, is a key cog in the Indian batting wheel and him being found wanting against short pitched bowling, is a serious headache going forward. He is expected to be around for a few more years and it is absolutely imperative that Raina somehow finds a way to deal with the short ball.
While the fast bowlers did well and in fact exceeded expectations, against a quality batting line up, Mohit Sharma’s lack of pace may be a problem in the future. While Umesh and Shami can both clock 145kmph, Mohit isn’t as fast and that places him at a serious disadvantage against good teams in reasonable batting conditions. Even tailenders can get stuck into him and India will have to try and shore up the fast bowling bench strength, if we are to do well overseas.
Finally, one must acknowledge there are also a number of positives that India can take home from the CWC 2015 campaign. Umesh and Shami bowled with great resolve and gusto, Mohit was good in patches, Aswin was absolutely superb throughout and the fielding was exceptional. India can now lay claim to being one of the best fielding sides in world cricket at the moment, and that in itself is a huge step forward.
In batting, Rohit and Shikhar did well while Virat would have liked a few more big knocks in matches that really mattered. Rahane has come a long way since stepping onto Australian soil and Dhoni showed on occasions that he can still do the job with the bat in tough situations.
All said and done it has been a reasonable campaign. India has lost to a superior team, and it is important the BCCI sits down to do a proper introspection in the days ahead. It needs to recognise that in Test cricket, India continues to be poor in overseas conditions and that is one area where the BCCI’s new dispensation should devote much energy. ODI cricket however, is in good shape even though the mantle of world champions has had to be passed on.