It’s not a World Cup year, so ODIs have little or no context for India skipper Virat Kohli. However, that should not have been an excuse for the manner in which India sleepwalked through the ODIs.
In the post-match chat, Kohli mentioned that ‘the games were not as bad as the scoreline suggests’ but the fact of the matter is that India just didn’t turn up or they weren’t at 100 percent. They couldn’t defend 347 and 296, couldn’t chase 273, Jasprit Bumrah couldn’t take a wicket in 30 overs, Mayank Agarwal struggled to get runs, Kohli couldn’t score a ton and all of that together resulted in the 3-0 scoreline. It was a collective failure.
And even though the New Zealand squad changes quite a bit for the Tests, this scoreline will give them a mental boost going into the Test series, which begins on February 21. India, on the other hand, will need to get back their focus in time.
Here are a few aspects that they will need to pay close attention to:
Mayank Agarwal and the opening conundrum
Agarwal’s scores since December 25: 1, 3, 32, 0, 0, 24, 37, 29, 32, 8, 0, 34
Since December 25, Agarwal’s highest score across formats is 37. In the India A first-class match against New Zealand A, he got 0 and 0 and he didn’t look as solid as he usually does in the ODIs as well. By the time the first Test begins, he would have been in NZ for more than a month, having been part of the India A tour too, and hopefully that is enough time for him to rediscover his form and make his peace with the conditions. Even if the pitches become good for batting later on, the new ball always does a little to begin with and that is the hardest period to bat. With Rohit Sharma missing, Agarwal will be the senior partner and whether he has Prithvi Shaw or Shubman Gill for company remains to be seen. His form will be a worry.
Shaw got starts in every ODI — 40, 24, 20 — but he also found ways to throw it away in every match. While he clearly has all the shots in the book, he seems to be a bit too loose to bat against the moving ball.
Gill has really found his rhythm in the first-class games against New Zealand A with scores of 136, 204* and 83 in the last two matches. He is in very good touch and the team management has a lot of thinking to do before it picks the playing XI.
Kohli has looked a little off
The typical Kohli innings see him work his way into it with singles and the odd four. He even defends with intent. But on Tuesday, he just seemed to be searching for something. The search was embodied in the manner in which he used his feet to come down the wicket to Tim Southee. The ball ended up in the stands. But this isn’t what Kohli usually does. The India skipper thinks about his batting a lot, he understands his batting and the irony would not have been lost on him.
What was also very clear was the plan New Zealand had to him — slightly short of length, not up for the drive and outside the off-stump. When the ball is moving, that line can frustrate Kohli and give the opposition rich rewards. The Indian skipper ended the ODI series with just 75 runs — the least runs he has scored in a bilateral series as captain.
If anything, India will hope that this tough period only sets him up to approach the Test series with even more intent.
Jasprit Bumrah goes wicket-less
Bumrah bowled 30 overs in the ODI series but failed to pick up a single wicket. He also had an economy rate of 5.56. New Zealand were careful against Bumrah and as Williamson said after the match, they played ‘smart cricket.’ With Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Deepak Chahar missing, India lacked proper wicket-taking options in the pace bowling department. They also chose to rest Mohammed Shami. So the Kiwis did the right things and played out Bumrah’s initial spell.
Bumrah isn’t bowling badly, he was still getting the ball to go past the bat pretty often but he has also been throwing in the odd loose delivery, which is very unlike him. Wickets always make a bowler feel better about his bowling and the paceman will be keen to return to his usual self in the Tests.
“All three games, the composure and the way we fielded wasn’t good enough for international cricket. The way we came back was a positive for us. In the field, we weren’t good enough at all,” Kohli said after the third ODI.
The little things matter — India seemed to get their angles wrong, they weren’t attacking the ball, there were overthrows and catches were dropped. Shaw and Kuldeep Yadav looked out of place. There was the wind factor but international teams train for this. Kohli’s side lacked intensity in the field and the skipper will be the first to admit that.
As fielding coach R Sridhar had mentioned ahead of the second ODI, India’s standards in the field have really dropped since the series against West Indies at home and they haven’t quite managed to recover yet. The tight schedule has meant that they haven’t had time to arrest the downward momentum but in Test matches, these lapses can hurt even more.