For a batsman short on self-confidence,there couldnt have been a more disastrous start to a batting session than seeing his off-stump sent cart-wheeling by a net bowler coming at him at nothing more than medium-pace. That too with Duncan Fletcher standing right behind him.
The technical flaws that resulted in Suresh Raina losing his off stump were the same ones that have caused his failings over the last two weeks. His feet were camped warily in the crease,his front-foot stepped out gingerly,hardly reaching the pitch of the ball,and his unbalanced torso was in no position to play the drive-allowing the ball to sneak through the gap between bat and pad. This wasnt Mitchell Johnson steaming in at full tilt,but a right-armer,half a foot shorter than the Australian pacer and lacking any of his menace,at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) nets on the eve of the seventh and final ODI in Bangalore. It seemed like he was expecting a bouncer.
If that was so,it revealed a lot about Rainas mindset. Meek,unsure and cramped in thought. And it wasnt surprising to see Fletcher whisk the left-hander out of the fast bowlers net soon after and allow him some redemption against the spinners.
Replacing Raina,who has averaged 24 in three innings,against the fast men was another left-hander in dire need of runs. With an average of 2.33 and two zeroes in a series that has witnessed incredible batting feats from batsmen on both sides,Yuvraj Singh has had a nightmare.
Ironically,while the Aussies have struggled to find a strategy to thwart Virat Kohli,Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma,George Baileys men have stuck to and executed their gameplans with clinical perfection against Raina and Yuvraj: greet them with a charged-up Mitchell Johnson aiming for their necks followed by Shane Watsons deceptive bouncers,and keep them guessing by mixing up short and full deliveries.
Thrice Yuvraj has perished to Johnson. Unsure footwork led to his downfall twice and a 150kph bouncer accounted for him in Pune. While Raina has survived for longer,hes hardly looked in his comfort zone,and has twice fallen to Johnsons bouncer.
Johnsons record against the two during the series tells the story. Hes bowled a total of 28 balls to the two,in which hes conceded 17 runs and taken five wickets. Indias left-handed middle-order duo would have heaved a massive sigh of relief with their tormentor having flown back home to prepare for the Ashes,despite the ODI series being up for grabs in Saturdays decider at the Chinnaswamy Stadium.
MS Dhoni had spoken about the No. 4 position at the start of the series,nominating Raina as a potential starter for the spot going into the 2015 World Cup. But after a whirlwind affair of behemoth team totals and incredible run-chases-to which his No.4 and 5 have hardly contributed-the position looks more uncertain than ever before.
The most worrying thing for Dhoni is that Raina and Yuvraj have been sorted out by the Australians with short-pitched bowling on pitches that have served up buffets for the other batsmen. A majority of Indias ODI commitments leading up to their World Cup defence will be played overseas,in South Africa,New Zealand,England and Australia,where bowlers will have better chances of exploiting their weaknesses.
Both still remain matchwinners in the subcontinent. Having said that,Yuvraj has won India matches even abroad and has scored centuries in Australia against world-class attacks,unlike Raina,who is yet to do a star turn on foreign soil. Between the two the more experienced Yuvraj,just 13 matches short of the 300 mark,could well leapfrog his younger partner for the No.4 slot.
Closer to the present,India will hope that Yuvraj and Raina do make the most of Johnsons absence in the decider. They couldnt have asked for a better venue,considering how the Chinnaswamy has been the ‘six capital for ODIs in India since 2010 – 67 sixes in six matches. And while the likes of Rohit and Kohli have hogged the limelight against Bailey & Co,the focus could well shift to Yuvraj and Raina as they look to finish their untoward runs with a touch of redemption on Saturday.