The confirmation, or dare one say, the reconfirmation from the short T20 series against Sri Lanka was that if the ball arrives at the batsman in curved lines, or at an angle to the original trajectory, batsmen are finding it difficult to handle. India’s aggressive methods in Pune backfired spectacularly on a track that made seam bowling a rare, viable option. And when the ball turned in Ranchi and Visakhapatnam, Sri Lanka’s batting looked inadequate.
It is easy to ascribe a reason to it. Big heavy bats that hit through the line when the ball is coming straight at them lure batsmen into doing only that. In course of time that becomes the method of scoring runs. Hopefully, it won’t be the only way. The inability to adapt, to find another way of scoring runs given the conditions was, as you would imagine, much discussed.
It is easy to believe that this generation, with flat decks and small boundaries in T20 cricket, has been fattened. But as a more contemporary cricketer told me recently, if adapting to different formats was so simple, why did so many good players from another era find it tough to play one-day cricket? His defence, and it is a fair one, is that adapting isn’t as easy as it seems. In Australia, the ball was coming onto the bat in straight lines, the bounce was entirely predictable and you could hit through the line. Suddenly in Pune, it was jagging across. If it was 50 overs cricket, the batsmen might have given themselves more time to get in, but over 120 balls, even 15 can be considered too many. And so the pressure to play the hard shot is inevitable.
It doesn’t absolve batsmen entirely, after all runs must be made by overcoming the hurdles that the bowler and the field placement present, but illustrates why whirlwind itineraries can produce skewed results.
A settled XI
With five wins in six games now, India’s first eleven has probably picked itself. More so, it seems roles have already been assigned and that explains why Raina was stationed at number four even when Kohli was absent. Dhoni wants players, certainly key players, to become comfortable in the roles they will eventually play. That perhaps also explains why Yuvraj Singh wasn’t sent up the order in Visakhapatnam even though he really does need to have faced more balls before the tournament begins. He is probably going to play number six and maybe, Dhoni wants him to live with that reality.
The interesting player in this mix is Hardik Pandya. I wonder if, in this seemingly rigid batting order, he will be the sole floater. With Jadeja down at number eight, India have depth, certainly enough depth, to have one person batting freely anywhere. But if he has to be sent at number five sometimes, as he was in Ranchi, it leaves Yuvraj Singh with very little to do unless there have been top order wickets. Good T20 teams are built around ten players and it makes you wonder if Yuvraj is seen to be the eleventh, filling in with a bit here and there. Even if it is so, by the time the Asia Cup is done, Yuvraj needs to have had a lot of batting behind him for when in flow, he is still a matchwinner.
It is as a bowler, though, that he is currently lending greater balance to the team, for if he can consistently deliver two overs to his captain, it allows India’s fifth bowler, seemingly Pandya at the moment, a little cushion. Don’t be surprised if Dhoni consistently gets three overs out of Yuvraj and Raina between overs eight and fourteen.
It is difficult to read too much into the bowling given that Sri Lanka were completely off colour while batting, but Nehra and Bumrah have probably done enough to start in the first game in Nagpur. It is the third seamer that is a bit of a worry, and the fact that Mohd Shami has been picked with no cricket behind him is an indicator of that. He had a very good World Cup, and till Bumrah came around was the only one to bowl a decent yorker, but that was eleven months and a major surgery earlier. He needs to play games and maybe, we will see some rotation of bowlers at the Asia Cup. Having said that, you have to wish he had earned his place back on the strength of some hot performances.
Traditionally, India haven’t been very good being front-runners in a tournament. But recent performances make them one of the favourites. If the tracks favour spin, that will be a fair comment to make.