Alright, India won 2-1. But the One-Day International series against England has been a rollercoaster, and the two Indian victories came at the end of nerve-jangling finishes. Well, you may say that thrillers are an intrinsic part of limited-overs cricket. That’s its USP. To me, the results signify that England ran India close. Too close for my comfort.
England are the World Cup winners. So even a narrow win is a reason for cheer. Very true. More so, since it wraps up a summer of triumphs for India across all formats — Tests, T20s and ODIs.
While India celebrates the ODI victory, it’s also important to learn from the failures. One area highlighted by Nasser Hussain was India’s slow starts. The former England captain and renowned commentator, writing in The Daily Mail, said India’s tactics are obsolete.
What Nasser Hussain said
“It’s old-fashioned, 50-over cricket from five years ago. It’s almost as if they are playing a 30-over game initially in which they are intent on keeping wickets in hand, followed by a Twenty20 innings,” Hussain wrote.
There’s some truth in Hussain’s argument, but it’s not entirely accurate. The opening burst depends on the batsmen’s style and their form. Hussain is a bit short on memory too. More than a decade back, Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar provided India with blistering starts. Well, you could argue that their tactics were light years ahead.
Hussain’s theory is anchored on England’s success, where Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy have been providing explosive starts. England can afford to do that so long as they have a super-talented middle order where captain Eoin Morgan, a specialist batsman, comes in at number six. And to have an allrounder like Sam Curran to come at number eight to conjure unlikely victories underlines England’s batting strength.
Not every country can follow suit. India can. That’s the nub of Hussain’s argument. India sure has the batting depth to employ England’s template. Hussain is spot on when he said the Indian totals in the series were below par, and this is reflected in the loss and the slim margins of the two victories.
There’s an inherent weakness in Hussain’s strategy. A weakness that’s so unique to India. The propensity to implode. Even with Sehwag, Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman, Indian batting have collapsed repeatedly. There’s no resilience like the Australian middle order of the yesteryears.
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But then you could argue the character of the Indian team has changed drastically. Virat Kohli’s captaincy has infused more aggression and steel in the side. So this team could turn the clock back. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan could reprise the roles of Sehwag and Tendulkar. Or, as Hussain suggests, pick a pinch-hitter like Ishan Kishan or Suryakumar Yadav to partner Sharma. K.L. Rahul filled that role well in the 2019 World Cup. Prithvi Shaw too can shift gears swiftly.
But the weakness remains. It was evident in the final ODI in Pune on Sunday (March 28, 2021), when India were off to a rousing start with openers Sharma and Dhawan racking up the quickest of their 17 century stands. A rollicking middle-order partnership and some lusty hitting down the order followed. Yet, India were all-out, with eight balls left and at least 20 runs short.
Why strong sides need not win
India won, because the England batting collapsed. A strong batting side capable of scoring fast need not ensure victory. Tactics are dependent on the strength of each side, the opposition and the conditions. Hussain knows that.
Indian tactics are not outdated. They are still delivering results, like the series win against England. Maybe, it needs to be tweaked to make it more flexible. We will leave that to the coach and captain. They know best.