India on Tuesday lost a bilateral ODI series for the first time since skipper Virat Kohli took charge. The 29-year-old had led the team to victory in seven such series earlier.
This motley crew of cricketers have waltzed around world cricket like conquerors in the past two years. They had seven series wins under their belt. England was the next big challenge.
For his eighth series in charge, though, the captain chose to ring in the changes. The fact that the game at Leeds on Tuesday was a series decider did not faze the team management, which instead dealt with the game as warm-up before the much-awaited five-match Test series.
KL Rahul was dropped, Dinesh Karthik came into the side. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who had missed the previous two games through injury, was brought in place of Umesh Yadav. Siddharth Kaul made way for Shardul Thakur.
The new-look XI, though, could not quite challenge the English team, which had momentum on their side after a convincing victory in the second ODI.
On Tuesday, India were humbled by the Englishmen who sealed the three-match series 2-1 with a one-sided eight-wicket win at Leeds.
It wasn’t just the loss but the manner in which the Indians lost that caught everyone’s attention. India failed to fire with the bat and bowl. There were also plenty of dropped chances and overthrows while on the field.
String of changes
In hindsight, it was the experiments that demanded a review. Karthik could not get going, Bhuvneshwar struggled to find form, and Thakur just could not find the rhythm that Kaul had managed to get into in the previous two games.
At the start of the series, Kohli had announced that each member of the squad would get a game and a chance to have played in English conditions ahead of the 2019 World Cup. With the limited-overs leg in England more or less a curtain-raiser to the Test series, it appears, Kohli felt it was a decent platform to experiment and execute his vision.
The team management will have to answer why it chose a series-decider as a warm-up game ahead of the team announcement for the high-profile Test series. The experimentation shows that winning wasn’t a priority.
The loss, exacerbated by the meek surrender of the team, does not set the right tone for a unit heading into a big series. Not only does it erode confidence of the team members, but gives the opposition a psychological advantage even before a ball is bowled in the main event.
Not every bilateral limited-overs series induces the same level of excitement, but it should not be treated with such disregard. “When it doesn’t come off, changes look unnecessary,” Kohli conceded after the game.
It is not to say that a full strength India side would not have been beaten, but it is the sheer dominance of the England outfit on Tuesday that is likely to leave India’s stars a little shaken ahead of the Test series.
The Indian batsmen have also struggled to combat spin so far on this tour, which would concern Kohli, who himself fell prey to a ripper from Adil Rashid. With Moeen Ali also in fine form, India have been left bamboozled in the middle overs.
The stuttering middle-order too is also to blame for these turn of events. The team management’s decision to tinker with the playing XI only further muddled the waters.
The decision to leave out Rahul was the most baffling. Including Karthik did pass muster – he led India to a series win in the Nidahas Trophy earlier this year. However, the team’s persistence with an average Suresh Raina did raise eyebrows.
The Uttar Pradesh batsman played all three ODIs. Batting coach Sanjay Bangar insisted before the match that the team management preferred to have a left-handed batsmen in the middle-order.
However, the fact remains that Raina wasn’t even part of the initial squad announced for the series. He was included only after Ambati Rayudu, who is a right-handed batsman, failed to clear the YoYo test.
From not being picked in the squad at all to becoming irreplaceable, Raina has had a dramatic turnaround in fortune despite average returns. The 31-year-old did provide support to Kohli as the team looked to rebuild but so far hasn’t been able to dominate the bowlers like Rahul can.
The decision to give a recovering Bhuvneshwar Kumar a go also backfired. He still did not appear to be fully fit, was hit for a few and failed to build pressure on the batsmen. Thakur also could not make an impact that justified his inclusion.
This is the same management that did not mind asking for favourable wickets to ensure victory. Winning series seems to have come down the priority list for Kohli and the Indian think tank.
However, whatever be the intentions, it is clear that his series loss will rankle. Not only was it the first bilateral ODI series loss for this Kohli-led outfit, it also sets a bad memory for players who will return to the same country a year later to battle for the World Cup.
Immediately, though, it could impact the upcoming Test series. The momentum is firmly with the hosts, who have just one-upped a formidable Indian team that arrived on their shores as proven conquerors.