Steve Smith: 1st ODI, 105 runs off 66 balls; 2nd ODI, 104 off 64 balls.
Jasprit Bumrah: 1st ODI, 10-0-73-1; 2nd ODI, 10-1-79-1.
To be fair, the tour of Australia has had a retro feel in more ways than one. The jersey, a throwback to the 1992 World Cup, adds to the feeling but the manner in which Australia has dominated the ODIs really does take one back to the old days. And that is not a good thing.
In the old days, India was so clueless about Australian conditions that tours would invariably begin with defeats in the warm-up games. Those defeats would have such an impact on the psyche of the Indian team that they would not recover for the rest of the tour.
Australia would target India’s best and keep up the attack until they would break. The current tour has begun in that same worrying manner for India. Star bowler Bumrah looks off-colour. He hasn’t got any movement in the air or off the pitch, the sharp bouncer is missing and he has been carted for runs all over the ground. He has gone for more than 70 runs in each of the matches and that will be giving the Indian team management sleepless nights.
The early breakthroughs just haven’t come for India and the five ODI defeats in a row is a sign of something going badly wrong. Perhaps the lack of support is a factor; perhaps they are just playing Bumrah differently. Bhuvneshwar Kumar was a key bowler for India, especially with the new ball and he would generally get something in the first few overs. But he has been missing from the mix and it is having an impact.
Bumrah in the last 5 ODIs for India
1st ODI vs NZ: 10-1-53-0
2nd ODI vs NZ: 10-0-64-0
3rd ODI vs NZ: 10-0-50-0
1st ODI vs Aus: 10-0-73-1
2nd ODI vs Aus: 10-1-79-1
But as teams can look to play out Bumrah initially, the desperation to get wickets could be leading to errors creeping into the bowling. Time and again, we have seen the lack of wicket-taking options show in the worry lines on skipper Virat Kohli’s face.
For now, though, India are putting up a brave face. After the first ODI, Kohli said their bodies got stiff after the 30-over mark as they had not played a long game in a while and after the second ODI, vice-captain KL Rahul backed Bumrah, who was brilliant for the Mumbai Indians in the recently concluded IPL, to emerge out of the lean patch.
“We all know Jasprit is quite fiery and very competitive on the field and has high expectations of himself,” the wicketkeeper-batsman said. “He is a champion bowler; his presence means a lot. We know the value of Jasprit. It’s about time a champion player like that will come back and deliver and get wickets for us. You must understand, in New Zealand and Australia, the wickets are so good to bat on, you will see top bowlers not getting wickets. So, that’s quite acceptable.”
To compound the issue, Steve Smith has found his hands and the runs that go with them. His batting has been effortless. The shots that were looking so ugly when he was playing for the Rajasthan Royals are a thing of the past and it has all just clicked into place.
He got to his century in both matches in exactly 62 balls and he did this without ever looking to slog. He picked the gaps and played with the field as only the finest batsmen can.
There are so many unique parts to Smith’s technique that if even one goes out of sync, it just throws everything else off. But when it does come together, he truly becomes a force of nature. The fluency we have seen in the first two ODIs is quite exceptional. And if it is a sign of things to come, India will spend a lot of time in the field during the Tests.
Smith in ODIs
Smith in Tests
Smith, as is evident from the numbers in the tables above, likes batting against India. But as a result of the two ODIs, he is going to go into the Tests feeling pretty good about himself while Bumrah will still be searching for his best form and sometimes that is the only edge the opposition needs.
Ahead of the tour, almost everyone thought that India’s strength was its bowling but, just two ODIs into the tour, it doesn’t feel quite that way now. The absence of Ishant Sharma will ratchet up the pressure on Bumrah and Mohammed Shami in the Tests and while in the past they could just run in and bowl, they will now be weighed down by the burden that responsibility can sometimes prove to be.
Class is permanent but it is nothing without form. India will count on Bumrah to fight his way back to his best but let it be known, Smith is already off and running. And what do they say, well begun is...