It was like clockwork. Once Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma got set, the result was never in doubt. That statement is testament to the quality that these two batsmen have brought to the table in the last 3-4 years as much as it is to the quality of the West Indies attack.
The manner in which Kohli and Sharma charted out India’s path to victory was one we have seen so many times in the past that it almost had an inevitable feel to it. One batsman was the aggressor (usually it is Sharma or Shikhar Dhawan but Kohli took the lead on Sunday) and the other was the anchor (usually Kohli but the role was essayed by Sharma in the first ODI). The effortless manner in which they raised the run-rate was a sight to behold.
They never quite seemed to hit the ball too hard or out of anger. They, instead, seemed to magically find the gaps even when the field was well spread. In the commentary box, former West Indies Ian Bishop said just what we were all thinking: “A lot of the West Indians on the field are in shock.”
Currently, there is little that India’s top three cannot do. That much we know. Of the top five batsmen in the one-day format, three are Indians. Kohli and Rohit occupy the first two spots and Dhawan comes in at five. Their quality is unquestioned. They have figured out the format and the way to build match-winning innings. The problems for India usually begin after they are back in the hut.
And it is in that context that each match needs to be looked at. After all, each ODI played by any team around the world is meant to serve one purpose and one purpose alone: help them win the World Cup. So while the win was welcome – it always is – the real question we need to be asking is what did India gain from the first ODI?
First, the bowling. India did the right thing by resting Kuldeep Yadav for the game. With Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Hardik Pandya also missing, the stage was set for the back-up seamers to show what they are all about. Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav have struggled to find their feet in white-ball cricket and they were once again exposed.
Shami got two wickets but was carted for 81 runs in his 10 overs. Khaleel Ahmed claimed one wicket but gave away 64 runs in his 10 overs. Umesh gave away 64 runs in his 10 overs and failed to claim a wicket. The batting conditions were great but the problem wasn’t that. It was the number of boundary balls that were bowled.
Shami conceded 10 fours and three sixes in his quota of overs. That’s 58 runs in fours and sixes alone. Umesh was hit for eight fours while Khaleel gave away 36 runs (six fours and two sixes) in his spells. If anything, such balls allow the built-up pressure to dissipate. West Indies is a team that loves the big hit – take that away from them and the wickets will follow.
India’s three seamers failed to do that consistently enough. And even though Kohli said they shouldn’t be judged too harshly, they should have been able to do better. Perhaps it was no coincidence that India’s best bowler was a regular – Yuzvendra Chahal.
“On this wicket, you need to vary your pace,” said Chahal after the game. “Because, when ball is old, it grips. If the batsman is tall, then you need to vary. Plus, they were looking for sixes only when I was bowling, so I bowled differently. They are very strong guys so we can’t bowl full too often.”
Words that showcased just how one needs to think differently in ODIs and T20s. One needs to find a balance between becoming too predictable and keeping the batsmen guessing.
The batting was pretty much as expected. If the opposition can’t get past India’s top three, they will not stand a chance. Better teams may get past them and India have been feverishly preparing for that eventuality.
The quest to find the No 4 batsman has now landed at Ambati Rayudu’s doorstep. And he didn’t do anything silly in his short innings. He calmly took India to victory knowing that a World Cup spot could be his for the taking if he keeps his wits about him. We know he can play the big shot but a No 4 slot is all about performing under pressure. How will he cope with that? That is the question on everyone’s mind.
Rishabh Pant got a game but he didn’t get a bat and neither did Dhoni.
Of course, there is the thought that as long as India’s regular top three are playing against this West Indies bowling line-up, that pressure may never be telling enough. But if India do win the first two ODIs, the selectors might be tempted to rest some more of the regulars and give the others a proper go.
At the start of the series against the West Indies, Ravi Shastri spoke about how the series was all about trying to rediscover the winning habits again. And while that isn’t wrong, it is also perhaps just as important to keep an eye on the World Cup. For in ODIs, there is little else that matters.