India completed a hard-fought series victory against West Indies on Wednesday with a six-wicket win in the third and final One-Day International in Trinidad. It was an important result for Virat Kohli and his men as they rebuild after the disappointment of the World Cup last month.
There were a fair few unanswered questions facing the men in blue after the World Cup in England. They’d had a good run in the tournament, finishing on top at the end of the league stage, but the semi-final loss to New Zealand exposed the chinks in the Indian team’s armour.
The three-match ODI series in West Indies was a good opportunity for India to get back to winning ways and begin their four-year cycle until the next World Cup on a positive note. And, as far as the results were concerned, they did just that by putting in disciplined performances and closing out the series 2-0.
Although the first ODI in Guyana got washed out, the remaining two matches allowed India to incorporate changes in their playing XI and test the plans they have in mind going forward.
While Kohli’s back-to-back centuries and Shreyas Iyer’s form in the middle order were undoubtedly the biggest positives, there were a few other interesting talking points from India’s performance in the two ODIs.
Here are five takeaways from India’s ODI series victory in the Caribbean:
The mystery of KL Rahul
He had a phenomenal Indian Premier League season, finishing as the second-highest run-scorer in the tournament, and followed that up with a decent outing at the World Cup as well but KL Rahul still found himself warming the bench during the ODIs in West Indies (and two T20Is).
Rahul scored 593 runs at an average of 53.90 in IPL 2019, before getting 361 runs in nine innings during the World Cup. After impressing at No 4 during the warm-ups and providing India an solution for their middle-order troubles, he even stepped up to the plate and shouldered responsibility at the top of the order when Shikhar Dhawan got injured in England.
But that has not been enough for the 27-year-old to secure any spot in the batting order.
It now seems clear that Rahul will be looked at only as a specialist opener in the 50-over format and with Dhawan and Rohit Sharma far from finished, he might find himself on the sidelines on most occasions going forward. It seems a bit unfair since he was constantly made to shuffle positions in the batting order over the last year and still managed to put in performances.
Kohli back to his best
The Indian captain had a point to prove in the Caribbean after the heartbreaking end to the World Cup. Not just the team in general, there were questions raised on Kohli’s contribution as a batsman as well in pressure situations. In fact, he was even asked directly about his low scores in knockouts games for India.
Kohli had a string of half-centuries to his name at the World Cup but he failed to convert even one of them into a big score. This was uncharacteristic of the right-hander (and unprecedented too) and he was hungry to show what he is capable of.
Sadly for the Windies, they had to bear the brunt of a highly motivated Indian skipper.
The 30-year-old took home the player of the series award with back-to-back hundreds. He now has 43 ODI tons and is just six behind the all-time record set by Sachin Tendulkar. Kohli was back to doing what he does best and paced both his innings wonderfully to help his team clinch the series.
Perhaps, the biggest positive from this post-World Cup Caribbean sojourn is that Kohli seems to be more driven.
Iyer grabs his opportunities, Pant wastes his
Going into the series, the biggest uncertainty for the Indian team, as has been the case for the past couple of years now, was the No 4 position in the batting order. Rishabh Pant, on the back of a cameo in the semi-final defeat to New Zealand, was handed to responsibility in the series but he failed to make the most of it.
The left-hander attempted an aerial shot off the first ball he faced yet again in the third ODI on Wednesday and found himself walking back to the hut. He needs to realise that the slog on the leg side has proved to be his undoing on far too many occasions and he needs to restrict that shot. It won’t be surprising if India shift lower down the order in the next series and use him as a finisher.
Another thing that won’t be surprising will be Shreyas Iyer walking out to bat at No 4 for a while now. Many were surprised by his absence from the World Cup and the right-hander showed what he’s capable of with two brilliant half-centuries.
A No 4 batsman has to be someone who can score a century on a consistent basis, not just play cameos every now and then, and Iyer seems to have the game to provide those big scores. He took his time after walking out in both innings and accelerated at just the right moment. Going by Kohli’s words after the third ODI, Iyer seems most likely to get a promotion up the order.
Kuldeep, Chahal separated
Leading up to the World Cup, many considered one of India’s biggest strengths to be their two wrist spinners. No other team has this luxury; Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal were supposed to play a big role in the tournament. But we all know how things panned out. Neither of them managed to set the stage on fire and eventually found themselves out of the playing XI at different stages.
What has also gone against the duo is Ravindra Jadeja’s form. The all-rounder played a truly remarkable innings in the World Cup semi-final, is dependable with the ball, and is one of the best fielders in the world. Over the course of the past couple of months, Jadeja has seemingly become the first-choice spinner for India’s ODI team.
This means we might not get to see Yadav and Chahal playing together very often going forward. Unless there’s a great amount of turn in the pitch and the management decides to go with three spinners in the XI, we will mostly see Jadeja included with either of the other two options.
Yadav played the second ODI against West Indies and got the important wickets of Evin Lewis and Shimron Hetmyer to return but conceded far too many boundaries to finish with figures of 2/59 from his 10 overs. Chahal played the third match and broke the broke the marauding opening partnership between Lewis and Chris Gayle to bring India back into the match. Both these spinners didn’t really disappoint with the chances they got but again, they didn’t manage to do anything exceptional either.
Bhuvi, Shami still neck and neck
Mohammed Shami got into the playing XI during the World Cup after Bhuvneshwar Kumar injured himself. He picked up a bagful of wickets, including a hat-trick, to make a strong case for himself even after Kumar returned. But the team management decided to leave Shami out of the semi-final which left many wondering if that was the right decision.
With Jasprit Bumrah being rested for the limited overs leg of the West Indies tour, the two ODIs were a good opportunity to see who between Kumar and Shami has the edge at the moment. As it turned out, both pacers ended up giving similarly decent performances.
While Kumar impressed with a four-wicket haul in the second ODI, Shami bowled economically in the next match and also picked up the important wickets of Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran. Both these bowlers bring something different to the table and the Indian team will have a sweet predicament in upcoming series when Jasprit Bumrah is back. Unlike the batting order, it’s a good headache for the team management.