Indian ODI team: New blood scarce!

The batting order has been unsettled, bowlers have been injured and out of form, and no new talent has been given consistent opportunity to emerge. Teams expect and plan to regenerate between World Cups. A year on, India cannot claim to have unearthed any new players that promise to be part of the first team at the next World Cup.

M. S. Dhoni... a host of problems.   -  AP

Manish Pandey made optimum use of the opportunity that came his way.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Is India's Plan B, Bumrah? Well, coming in as a replacement, the youngster did well in the final ODI in Sydney.   -  AP

Mohammad Shami's smart bowling 'at the death' was missed.   -  K. PICHUMANI

One-day teams are built and rebuilt in four-year cycles, something India’s current plight clearly demonstrates. Since what was a pretty good World Cup campaign, India has had a difficult time in one-day cricket, losing series to Bangladesh, South Africa and now Australia.

The batting order has been unsettled, bowlers have been injured and out of form, and no new talent has been given consistent opportunity to emerge. Teams expect and plan to regenerate between World Cups. A year on, India cannot claim to have unearthed any new players that promise to be part of the first team at the next World Cup.

Until the final ODI of the VB Series, when Manish Pandey showed a glimpse of his enormous talent — a chance that came his way by default and not design — and Jasprit Bumrah followed up on his domestic success, there was little to be encouraged by.

Meanwhile, there have been the same unresolved issues. While Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli have been excellent at the top of the order, there has been inconsistency below. Since the World Cup, Rohit has been India’s highest scorer, aggregating 788 runs at 65.66. Kohli is next (675 at 51.92), with Shikhar Dhawan (571 at 43.92) and Ajinkya Rahane (509 at 42.41) below.

It is positions four, five and six that have concerned India. Dhoni proclaimed Rahane was incapable of rotating the strike in the sub-continent and thus was not a good fit to bat at four — a strange thing for a captain to say in public. He had been expressing his own desire to bat at four but said he was forced to remain at six because there was no one else to finish innings off.

The outcome of all this was that India shuffled its order around against South Africa. Suresh Raina, whose last meaningful innings came against Zimbabwe at the World Cup, usually occupies the number five spot. But his exclusion from the one-day side that toured Australia — the selectors finally appeared to have lost patience with him — meant India had to find a new player for that position.

Before India’s departure for Australia, Dhoni stated that the team needed to sort its batting order out. He rued the lack of a settled unit. Unfortunately for him, the nature of the pitches down under meant that nobody beyond the top three was really tested in the first three games.

Pandey played the first two matches and was then dropped in order to balance the side; Gurkeerat Singh, his replacement, did not get sufficient time at the wicket either. Dhoni has also spoken routinely of the absence of a big hitter — a Kieron Pollard or Glenn Maxwell-type figure — in the side. The captain’s own powers here have waned and this has been India’s issue. Ravindra Jadeja is clearly not the answer, at least not on Australian grounds, where clearing the ropes is hard.

India’s middle order has also failed to adapt to the new rules, where the presence of an extra fielder on the boundary in the final 10 overs means teams have to do their scoring earlier.

“As I’ve always said, No. 6 is a very difficult position to bat,” Dhoni said ahead of the first game in Perth. “Whether a youngster bats at No. 6 or I bat we’ll see how it comes during the game. It will depend on what the top four or five batsmen have done, and according to the need of the game, we’ll make a call. But ideally, five or six is a slot where it’s good to have individuals who can adapt, who are not rigid about their batting slots.

“We’ll also have to see the other composition of the side. If you see the 15 as of now, especially among batsmen, there are not many who can also bowl. That means if we feature a particular XI we may have only five bowlers in the side, with the others being batsmen who don’t bowl at all. So there won’t be anybody to share in that bowling department if somebody is under pressure or doesn’t have a very good day.”

Such a problem would have been easily solved by the presence of a quality seam-bowling all-rounder, but India appears to have nobody performing this role to the captain’s satisfaction. Stuart Binny and Dhawal Kulkarni have been tried and jettisoned. Like it or not, Dhoni said grimly after the defeat to South Africa in the fifth ODI, these are the best we have.

He tried Rishi Dhawan in Australia, going against his own previous remarks, and the Himachal Pradesh all-rounder acquitted himself fairly well, but only in relation to the others. He is not a quick bowler by any standards and his batting is unproven; it would be surprising if he was a part of the side at the next World Cup.

The biggest headache, however, has been the bowling. Dhoni has complained endlessly of the need for more discipline in the final 10 overs. Mohammed Shami led the attack during the World Cup, bowling smartly at the death, and his absence was dearly felt, not just in Australia but also during the home series against South Africa.

Ishant Sharma does not convince as the leader of the bowling attack, while Bhuvneshwar Kumar has regressed. He bowls quicker now, but his accuracy and swing are not what they used to be.

Umesh Yadav’s economy rate since the World Cup is a shocking 7.18; as impressive as his performance in the Delhi Test against South Africa was, he could not bowl a decent yorker in Australia. Yadav’s work in Melbourne was especially worrying. “If you take the deep fine leg slightly wider, then that’s one area where you don’t want to get hit for a boundary. And that’s where off the two next balls, back-to-back boundaries are hit. It’s a bit disappointing because the bowlers have played a lot of games, and you want to avoid that kind of a boundary. I can only try to create more pressure by making field changes. But at the end of the day, it’s about execution,” Dhoni said.

If India is to improve as a one-day side, it needs a settled middle-order, a big hitter, an all-rounder and bowlers who can build pressure. Pandey’s hundred has bought him time now, and it was interesting that after the Sydney win he spoke of No. 4 being his best position, while Dhoni said he saw him as a fit for No. 5. This is no major issue, although the question of where he will bat in relation to Rahane should be answered soon.

On the bowling front, Bumrah showed promise at the SCG, sending down excellent yorkers. Ishant, he and Shami should make a decent combination. What is worrying, though, is that Bumrah was not originally part of the one-day side, and that Pandey and he featured only because other players were injured.

Dhoni has shown himself to be rigid and unwilling to experiment. “In Indian cricket, we are used to getting complete products,” he complained in Perth. “Right from the late 80s, we got cricketers who were ready to play international cricket. Once they made their debuts, they were there for 10-15 years. I think that trend is changing slowly. Even with the batsmen, they have been part of the side for a while, but we’ve still had to groom them. The same applies to the bowlers. We do not have the luxury of just picking up complete products who can start delivering from the first game. It’s very important to identify talent and give them that exposure quite quickly and we get to see how they handle pressure and the areas where they need to improve.”

It seemed more an excuse than anything else. After the final ODI of the VB Series, Dhoni was asked if Pandey should have been called up much earlier, and he offered a surprising answer, washing his hands off the matter. “It is a very difficult one, and that is where the selectors do their job,” he said. “Frankly, if you asked me today who is performing well in domestic cricket, I don’t have any clue. It all depends on the selectors. They are the ones that are watching the domestic games, the big games, India A and all that. I feel when there is a chance, when it comes to selections, I rely a lot on the selectors, especially when it comes to picking somebody new. Let’s say somebody who needs to bat lower down the order. You have to rely on the selector. You need to have that trust. They are the ones who are watching them. If they strongly feel this is a youngster we need to promote, you have to. At the end of the day all of them are good. What is important to see is how they handle pressure at the international arena. Other than that I don’t think we are short of talent.”

It seemed like an attempt to shift the blame, and it made Dhoni seem like he was carping. Finally, there is the question of leadership and Dhoni’s own place in the side to be answered. Sandeep Patil, Chairman of the selection committee, made it very clear in Mumbai that Dhoni would lead the side until the end of the T20 World Cup. The selectors wanted to send out a message, Patil said, and quash all speculation over his future. Once that tournament is over though, there could be bigger shifts in the Indian ODI setup.