In the absence of Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni, the batting was undoubtedly weakened.
India’s pathetic batting in the fourth match of this ODI series was a grim reminder of how the middle order — and by extension the batting — remains vulnerable, despite the recent successes.
Losing a match is not the crux. The law of averages can catch up with any side, and India had won three matches on the trot. But to be bundled out for a paltry 92, even if the conditions were tilted in favour of the bowlers, was astonishing to say the least.
Trent Boult was magnificent. His pace is sharp, but what troubles batsmen even more is his ability to get the ball to swing late into or away from the batsmen. The pitch too had some juice, which made him an even bigger threat.
But this is precisely the challenge the Indian batting had to counter effectively to show their preparedness for the impending World Cup in England where swing and pace bowlers are likely to get similar assistance.
One can rationalize the batting debacle as a one-off. But that is a defensive way of looking at the situation. Let’s not forget that India had lost the ODI series in England last year even with a full strength team.
Even if the collapse in the fourth match against New Zealand was an aberration, it can lead to disastrous consequences in tournament like the World Cup, which is what should concern the team management and the selectors.
In the absence of Virat Kohli and M S Dhoni, the batting was undoubtedly weakened. However, this opened up opportunities for other claimants hoping to make the cut for the World Cup to stamp their credentials. They bombed.
Fact is, India is still heavily dependent on the top three — Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli — for running up or chasing big totals. Of these, Dhawan is still seeking the big scores to suggest that he is back in top form, which makes the batting even more iffy.
In any case, a team aspiring to win the World Cup can’t rely only on three or four batsmen, even if they are of the pedigree of Kohli, Sharma and Dhawan. Others have to stand up, especially when a crisis brews.
As it is, India have a long tail. The bowlers are all matchwinners and therefore indispensable. But they have no pretensions to batting ability, which makes it incumbent on the top 7 in the order to consistently ensure a healthy, defendable score.
How the team fares in the final match being played today should show where the top order stands. Kohli is not in the fray, but Dhoni’s return will give the batting heft and experience. However, at least a couple of players have their World Cup hopes hanging by a slender string.
Meanwhile, West Indies winning the first Test against England — and looking in a fairly strong position in the second — has the cricket world agog. Who would have thought! This is an entirely unexpected scenario given the travails of Caribbean cricket in the past two decades.
England were blown away in the first innings of the first Test for just 77, sending fans on a nostalgia trip when West Indies fast bowlers ruled the stage. It would be imprudent to compare the current lot with Roberts, Holding, Marshall, Garner, Walsh and Ambrose, but their success inspires hopes.
England are probably paying the price for lack of preparedness. They probably thought that the West Indies would roll over easily, not anticipating a side, with an inspirational young captain in Jason Holder, determined to prove itself.
How the series ultimately pans out remains to be seen. But if the West Indies can pull off a victory, it will redefine the power matrix of international cricket. Much to everyone’s delight!