India made to pay big for little mistakes
India have now become only the third side to lose successive matches after putting 300 on the board. As has become the norm there will be a temptation to blame Rohit Sharma - particularly the shortage of singles in the earlier parts of his innings - but there have been other smaller and bigger factors with much bigger impact at play.
Rohit has scored 295 off 290 balls out of India's 617 runs, has got out only once, but has not seen his side come even close to defending any of the totals. He faced 77 dots in Perth, and 59 in Brisbane. Put together, Steven Smith and George Bailey faced 93 dots and scored 261 runs. In Brisbane the two scored a total of 122 runs, and faced just 35 dots. In these hard and cold numbers lies the argument that the ODI game has changed - 300 is not a good total and Rohit needs to go hell for leather sooner than he has been doing so that India can get a par score. However, there are other hard and cold numbers that need to be looked at before picking on Rohit.
If the period after a World Cup usually marks the start of new trends, it will be instructive to look at numbers from World Cup to World Cup. Between the 2003 and 2007 editions, teams lost nine of the 60 games a 300-plus target was put up. Between 2007 and 2011, sides batting first reached 300 120 times, and lost 22 of those matches, one of them on Duckworth-Lewis calculations. Between the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, 101 scores of 300 or more were posted, out of which 18 were chased down, one thanks to D/L. Clearly more 300s are being chased, but that's because more 300s are being scored.
If you look at the ratio of 300s being defended progressively, the change is not drastic. It is still a safe total for a good bowling attack. It should at least make the chasing side break sweat, not stroll through and frustrate the captain into words to the effect of: forget about it, we will need to score at least 330.
A measure of India's new bowling low can be seen in how the opposition has treated them. Australia have tapped singles inside the 30-yard circle, and pinched the extra run on almost every throw from the deep. Smith's men have done the little things right while playing an extremely physical game.
Take the example of Barinder Sran. He has been impressive with the ball and made a fine attempt to catch Shaun Marsh at long leg, but his arm has been exposed mercilessly by the Australian batsmen. Almost every ball hit to him in the deep has yielded a minimum of two. Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma haven't been completely spared either, but when Virat Kohli tried to do the same - he likes to give as good as he gets - a missile from Kane Richardson arrived right by the stumps.
Ishant even dropped a sitter, and the agony came full circle when he drew the edge of the batsmen he reprieved, Marsh, and Manish Pandey dropped a difficult chance at first slip. Pandey was MS Dhoni's third partner on the night, and he may well argue this was the wicketkeeper's catch. Pandey had to dive to his right, whereas Dhoni hadn't moved. As fantastic as Dhoni has been standing up to spin, not going for catches towards first slip when standing back has long been a weakness. As has been not running up to the stumps, which if he had done soon enough in Perth, Smith would have been run out for 9.
There was another similar run-out missed in Brisbane, when R Ashwin, who has improved a lot with the ball, didn't go behind the stumps to collect a throw from short fine leg. Instead he just banked on a direct hit with Marsh nowhere near the crease. Over the years India have improved their fielding to unrecognisable levels, but Australia have exposed the minor weaknesses ruthlessly: weaker arms which can't be hidden on such large grounds, and not enough concentration for nearly long enough.
If there has to be a criticism of Rohit's effort, it has to be over a little thing. No matter how he had got there, he was now batting at a run-a-ball and in his favourite part of the innings: the final few overs where he can make up for the slowest of starts. On the surface, he got out in the unluckiest fashion - run out while backing up at non-striker's end - but you will rarely have seen Michael Hussey dismissed in this manner. That is not to say Hussey never backed up, just that when he saw the striker hit down the ground, he used to make a move back towards the stumps lest he get out the way Rohit did.
Until then, Rohit had done the job his side had given him. There was more intent to hit the big shots early, but the main concern was to bat deep into the innings. In cold hard numbers his efficiency has been poorer than that of Smith and Bailey, but they have the comfort of knowing Glenn Maxwell and James Faulkner are back in the hut. Rohit has Dhoni, who is a shadow of his own self, a rookie, Jadeja, who can be hit-or-miss and the bowlers. This lack of batting depth explains some of the caginess even in Dhoni. They are too worried there is no one behind them, a fear that came true when India scored only 53 after Rohit's dismissal in the 43rd over.
The selectors have to shoulder part of the blame for this. This is one of India's more unbalanced squads. There are only five established specialist batsmen, which means Shikhar Dhawan can score three ducks in the rest of the series and there will be no cover. Suresh Raina, who can offer a few overs should one of the main bowlers have a day off, is not in the side. The allrounder provided to Dhoni doesn't seem to be to his liking. Rishi Dhawan opens the bowling for his state Himachal Pradesh, but ahead of the series the India captain said there was no seaming allrounder in the side.
All in all this ODI tour has all the ingredients of a perfect disaster and harping on minor flaws in Rohit's batting, who has anyway been making up for slow starts with freakish regularity, is to bark up the wrong tree. Then again, perhaps that is the only field India can improve in? Dhoni won't start diving overnight, the arms won't strengthen overnight, nor will all five bowlers start bowling to a plan overnight. And it literally will have to happen overnight: India travel to Melbourne tomorrow and play the day after.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo