India kicked off their tour of Australia on a disappointing note in Sydney on Friday. The disappointment stemmed not just from the result; there are areas that need addressing post-haste, especially with three World Cups lined up inside the next three years.
The catching and fielding left a lot to be desired and once they were set a target of 375, India was seriously challenged. They lost far too many wickets early though they kept pace with the required rate, but when the No. 6 has to come out within the first 15 overs, it doesn’t augur well.
That said, Hardik Pandya showed a lot of maturity in his new role as a specialist batsman, playing an excellent hand and putting on a sparkling partnership with Shikhar Dhawan. They needed to bat deep if India were to pull off a miracle but when Shikhar fell to the impressive Adam Zampa, the writing was on the wall.
Credit to Australia for their intent once Aaron Finch opted to bat. The skipper led from the front with a fluent century, and his association with David Warner set the base for a huge total. Steve Smith struggled for fluency in early doors but as his innings flowered, he showed why he is such a great batsman. Glenn Maxwell showcased the audacity only he is capable of - his final flourish taking Australia to a total perhaps 70 above par.
An old bugbear continued to haunt India. India’s make-up has been such that they have only pure batsmen or pure bowlers, with the exception of Ravindra Jadeja. That means Virat Kohli’s hands are severely tied. Going forward, India must have a sixth bowling option, even if at the expense of a specialist batsman.
The best sides are those where the captain can look around and summon at least one, if not two, additional bowling resources. India doesn’t have that luxury at the moment.
I can think of five names that can slot in as the extra allrounder, given Hardik isn’t bowling these days. There is the spin trio of Washington Sundar, Axar Patel and Krunal Pandya, as well as the medium-paced duo of Vijay Shankar and Shivam Dube. The prudent course of action will be to get anyone or two of them into the squad, give them game-time, and groom them for the battles ahead.
By the time Hardik starts to bowl again, India will have thus ensured a back-up choice for that position too. Otherwise, the threat of as many bad days as good days will be too real.