Bugged by batting inconsistency

Skipper M. S. Dhoniwith the winner’s trophy after India claimed the five-match ODI series 3-2.-AKHILESH KUMAR

Despite the defeat in the final game, the outcome of the five-match series meant that India was back as the World No. 1 in ODI rankings for the first time since September 2009, ending England’s reign that began in September 2012. By Rakesh Rao.

Seldom do you find both captains looking happy at the end of a series. If Mahendra Singh Dhoni was looking at India’s 3-2 triumph, Alastair Cook was pleased with ending on a winning note, just the way England started the five-match ODI series.

After all, Dhoni’s men had struggled to perform to expectations through the season. Notwithstanding the 2-0 victory over New Zealand in the Test series, India struggled in all three forms of the game. It lost the Twenty20 series to New Zealand (0-1), faltered in the World T20 Championship in Sri Lanka, squandered the Test series to England (1-2) and after drawing the T20 series (1-1), India lost the ODI series to Pakistan (1-2). Therefore, India had ample reasons to be delighted with its victory against England.

What more, the outcome also meant India was back as the World No. 1 in ODI rankings for the first time since September 2009, ending England’s reign that began in September 2012. At the same time, one must remember that New Zealand had played a hand in India enjoying an enhanced status since it upstaged host South Africa 2-1 in the ODI series.

In fact, England, too, risked its top spot by announcing the ODI squad to India without paceman James Anderson, off-spinner Graeme Swann and batsman Jonathan Trott. For a country that had won just one of its last 18 matches in India, it was surely a tough challenge to return victorious. As a result, the eventual margin of defeat for England looks far more respectable.

In fact, that also brings into focus the question whether the World champion currently has the quality and consistency to be a worthy number one.

Surely, very little separates the leading teams. But with the Champions Trophy due in England this June, many teams are trying out new players as part of the process of finding a winning combination. With Australia continuing with its ‘rotation’ policy in player-selection and England resting its key players against India, the recent results do not reflect the true potential of these teams.

India, however, looks very reluctant to test new players, even in a ‘dead’ rubber as seen at Dharamshala. Cheteshwar Pujara, who was preferred over Virender Sehwag based on form for the series, eventually did not get to play a single game!

With most of the fast bowlers, who played for India in the last couple of seasons, on the injury list, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami got a look in, this winter. With Ishant Sharma making an impressive comeback to the limited-overs format, the trio did a reasonable job with the new ball as India won four out of five matches, including three on the trot against England. R. Ashwin did not justify the tag of being the country’s first-choice off-spinner.

With the notable exception of Suresh Raina, the inconsistency in batting remained. Gautam Gambhir benefited from the overdraft on his past record but appeared more vulnerable than ever. Virat Kohli lost the form shown for the better part of last year. Yuvraj Singh continued to search for his old self.

Dhoni, troubled by a hand-injury, bravely continued through pain, but that reflected in the drop in his contribution with the bat.

Rohit Sharma excelled just once, that too, in the role of an opener, but his last eight outings have seven scores in single digit!

Raina and Ravindra Jadeja provided the bright spots. The former fired four successive half-centuries and tallied 304 runs. His contributions made the vulnerability of the top-order appear less stark.

Jadeja, whose fielding gained repeated praise, scored more runs than Gambhir and Yuvraj in the series and took nine wickets, too, to emerge as the highest wicket-taker for the host in the series.

Ian Bell’s unbeaten match-winning century, after the bowlers restricted India on a seaming track, set up a consolation victory for England at Dharamshala.

Bell, whose 85 in the opening match, too, came in a winning cause, was the only centurion of the series and went past 4,000 runs during the course of his third ton in ODIs.

“Our bowlers set the tone and 227 was a nice target to go after. Throughout my one-day career I seem to have got good starts and not gone on, so to be not out at the end of the game is a massive step forward. We came here to win the series but there are some good things we can take from it,” said Bell.

In Cook’s words, “It’s disappointing; in a couple of those games we didn’t play as well as we could have done. That’s slightly frustrating, but with a young squad we’ve learned a lot about certain players. James Tredwell was fantastic all tour. He just gets on with his job and it’s great to have such strength in depth. Joe Root has come in and done very well, Steven Finn has done very well, as well, so we’ve learned a lot and the relationship with Gilo (new coach Ashley Giles) has gone nicely.”

THE SCORES

Fifth ODI — India v England, Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium, Dharamsala, January 27, 2013.

England won by seven wickets.

India: G. Gambhir c Bell b Tredwell 24, R. G. Sharma c Tredwell b Bresnan 4, V. Kohli c Tredwell b Bresnan 0, Yuvraj Singh c Morgan b Finn 0, S. K. Raina c Bell b Woakes 83, M. S. Dhoni lbw b Finn 15, R. A. Jadeja c Bell b Tredwell 39, R. Ashwin c Finn b Patel 19, B. Kumar c Finn b Bresnan 31, M. Shami c & b Bresnan 1, Ishant (not out) 0, Extras (lb-4, w-6) 10. Total (in 49.4 overs) 226.

Fall of wickets: 1-13, 2-13, 3-24, 4-49, 5-79, 6-157, 7-177, 8-211, 9-225.

England bowling: Finn 10-2-27-2, Bresnan 9.4-1-45-4, Woakes 9-1-45-1, Tredwell 10-1-25-2, Root 5-0-34-0, Patel 6-0-46-1.

England: A. N. Cook b Ishant 22, I. R. Bell (not out) 113, K. P. Pietersen c Jadeja b Shami 6, J. E. Root b Jadeja 31, E. J. G. Morgan (not out) 40, Extras (lb-8, w-7) 15. Total (for 3 wkts; 47.2 overs) 227.

Fall of wickets: 1-53, 2-64, 3-143.

India bowling: B. Kumar 9-1-45-0, Shami 9-1-46-1, Ishant 10-3-37-1, R. Ashwin 10-0-50-0, Yuvraj 2-0-15-0, Jadeja 7.2-0-26-1.