India had two less batting issues at Seddon Park in Hamilton on Wednesday than they have experienced in recent times.
Ajinkya Rahane looked promising at number four, which has been a source of some concern of late, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni demoted Suresh Raina, who has been a source of grave concern for a long time, to occupy the number five slot himself.
Rahane made 36 runs, and his partnership with Virat Kohli for the third wicket was crucial in keeping the Indian chase from dying a premature death. Dhoni’s 44-ball 56 was the highest score by an Indian number five batsman in the last six months and it took India closest to an ODI win since they set sail for South Africa on the first day of December last year.
And Raina, at number six, too found a semblance of touch as he made 36 off 22 balls. While it was not enough to see the team home, it gave the left-hander some breathing space.
Now Dhoni won’t have to bowl Raina at Eden Park, like he did in Hamilton, to provide a justification for keeping him in the team.
Wednesday’s batting order, therefore, seems like a workable formula. Raina, if he has to be persisted with, can be persisted with at number six, while Dhoni can come up at number five and give himself more deliveries to play and the line-up more stability.
But the trouble is that Dhoni doesn’t seem to agree.
‘’See if we keep changing our opinion about the batting order, then we will have to keep changing them after every match. He (Raina) came down the order because the conditions were such, certain things were demanded of him. And he did very well. I am sure he will carry plenty of confidence into the next game,’’ Dhoni said after yesterday’s match when asked if Raina could be played at the number six spot regularly. So the excepted reshuffle is off the table.
However, there is one more swap of positions that ought to be considered, and it may fix the one remaining Indian batting problem that was not addressed in the Hamilton match: the opening one.
Too aggressive at the top
The Indian think-tank can look to drop Rohit down to number four and promote Ajinkya Rahane further up, to where he perhaps belongs in the first place. So far, India’s batting is very top-heavy in terms of aggression, with the first three batsmen — Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit and Kohli — being hard-hitters of the ball.
The scratchy 23-ball-3 Rohit (seen at Napier) is not the real Rohit, who likes to play with abandon. Here, in away conditions, he’s trying to be a grafter, counterintuitively, but only managing to entangle himself in shackles.
When restricted to play his natural way, two-three quiet overs down the line he feels the choke, tries to break the grip and gets out to a hastily summoned shot. To free him, the think-tank needs to bring Rohit down the order.
But wouldn’t it be unfair to Rahane, you might ask, who has just started proving himself as a worthy number four? Not quite, Rahane’s more natural place, at least in the limited-overs format, seems to be at the top of the order. He has opened for India for 16 of his 20 ODIs so far and does so regularly, and with aplomb, for his IPL team, Rajasthan Royals.
Getting him to partner with Dhawan will also give variety to India’s top-order as Rahane can hold one end, in the manner Kane Williamson has been doing for the Black Caps in the ongoing series.
India have already lost two matches with tried-and-tested methods, so clearly, there seems to be little harm in tweaking things a bit for Eden Park. It might just work.