There have been two unerring similarities to each one of India’s overseas ODI outings over the last two months. Firstly, skipper Dhoni has opted to field on five out of five occasions he’s won the toss, in South Africa and now in New Zealand.
Incidentally, Dhoni has walked out to bat in all those five unsuccessful run-chases with the required run-rate soaring over seven-an-over. So demanding have been the scenarios that even ODI cricket’s foremost finisher has fallen short.
The one that has mainly been responsible for India repeatedly falling behind the eight ball though has been their middle-order’s inability to rotate the strike in between the 10th and 35th overs separating the two powerplays. It is an issue that could probably, on paper, be dismissed as a little prick, but one that has caused them a lot of pain.
Take the tied ODI in Eden Park for example. While India managed only 47 singles in the middle period, the Kiwis had picked up 70 singles during the same time. The lack of singles also meant that the visitors faced significantly more dot-balls than New Zealand, adding to the pressure. Even earlier in the series India have faced close to 30 more dot deliveries on average as compared to the Kiwis in the crucial middle overs.
South African skipper AB de Villiers in fact had pointed out last month that India’s penchant to score a lot of boundaries didn’t worry him as his bowlers could always make up for it by denying them singles and bowling more blank balls.
In the last 12 months, Indian batsmen have hit more fours than any other country with 796 hits to the fence with Australia second-best at 668. More significantly, their boundary percentage of the total runs scored is over 50 per cent. They don’t feature anywhere near the top when it comes to singles taken.
In subcontinent conditions India’s inability to rotate the strike might not count as a weakness. But it can get exploited in foreign climes where the bowlers have a say and break-free shots are leaden with more risks.
Over the last month or so the likes of Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh and Ajinkya Rahane have been guilty of getting the innings stuck when not scoring boundaries. Coupled with their problem against the short ball, the batsmen tend to remain trapped at one end. With the World Cup just a year away, it’s an issue that demands immediate attention or India can only hope that Dhoni walks out to bat donning his cape every single time.