England v India, 3rd ODI, Headingley July 17, 2018

India's happy headaches turn into real ones

From the meandering openers to Kuldeep's lost mystery, here's what went wrong for India in the ODIs against England

Virat Kohli started the limited-overs series in England saying he had happy headaches. He has finished it with nagging throbs. Here are the issues that could grow into a full-blown migraine by the time India arrive at the World Cup, if not addressed.

The sleepwalking openers
Teams follow routines like rituals if they have contributed to success in the past. India had won nine consecutive ODI series before they arrived in England. One significant element of their success was the impact created by at least one of their openers; if one of Rohit Sharma or Shikhar Dhawan produced a big innings, India invariably won. In this series too, in Nottingham, Rohit cracked a century and India easily chased down a middling target.

But, in the next two matches, if you compared the scores of both teams after 10 overs, India were trailing England. Today India had a horrendously slow start and reached 32 for 1 in that period; England had made 78 for 2 in the same time. This slow tempo in the first Powerplay does not hurt if the top order kicks on and prospers. However, if the top order fails, as was the case in the last two matches, the pressure mounts on the middle order, which in turn cracked at both Lord's and today in Leeds.

The top order needs to be vigilant but it also needs to press the accelerator whenever there is an open road visible. At times it is not such a bad idea to power on; Jonny Bairstow did it today against Bhuvneshwar Kumar, pushing India into a corner.

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The middle-order chaos
In trying to exercise "fluidity" in the middle order, in chasing a situation where any batsman can perform any role on a given day, India have only complicated things. With Kohli deciding to stick to No. 3, KL Rahul came in at No. 4 in the first two matches. He did not need to do much in Nottingham and failed to do much at Lord's. He was dropped in Leeds. Dinesh Karthik, playing his first ODI, walked in at four and left playing a stroke that had Kohli shaking his head.

Suresh Raina had come in at No. 5 at Lord's. Three days later he was pushed to No. 6, and lasted four deliveries. India are not panicking yet because they believe they have options to work out their middle order. But those options are not necessarily any better; some of those names - Ajinkya Rahane and Manish Pandey - have already been tried and remain unconvincing. Raina might make way for Ambati Rayudu by the time India play in the Asia Cup in September. However, India need to fix these middle-order roles sooner rather than later so the players get enough time to execute them better.

Kohli finds himself in a bit of a spin
As a batsman, Virat Kohli remains the undisputed king in ODIs. Creating gaps, finding angles, using rubbery wrists, dashing singles and twos, driving sumptuously, whipping sixes, collecting hundreds for fun. Kohli has us mesmerised once he gets into a rhythm.

But of late there is one area that has given bowlers of a one kind a slim ray of hope. The spinners think they have their big toe in Kohli's door. In the England series, Kohli was out to spin repeatedly: in Nottingham he was beaten by a flighted legbreak and stumped off Adil Rashid, at Lord's he was pinned lbw by Moeen Ali, and today he was left staring at a ripping front-of-the-hand legbreak from Rashid that crashed into his stumps. Kohli had a strike rate of 100 against pace in the series; against spin that came down to 79.78.

This weakness emerged during the IPL, where Kohli was defeated eight times by spin. He had a strike rate of 114.45 against spinners and an average of 24.75 against them. In contrast, he had a strike rate of 159.61 against fast bowlers and was dismissed only three times by them.

It will be interesting to see if, during the five-match Test series, this weakness proves to be an aberration or becomes a growing concern for Kohli.

Have England resolved Kuldeep's mystery?
Kuldeep Yadav started the ODI series with a six-for. It was his maiden ODI in England. How do you read Kuldeep's wrist? England could think of nothing else. Eventually it was Root, who had got out twice to Kuldeep on this tour, who figured out the best way to play him: wait, watch and play. That has proved to be a much safer option compared to trigger-happy sweeping and reverse sweeping.

Root and Morgan judiciously played the sweep against Kuldeep today and frustrated him. Consequently, Kuldeep pushed in his deliveries in at a faster pace, which played into the hands of the batsmen. Today was the second time Kuldeep went wicketless against England on the tour, the first instance coming during the Cardiff T20.

Kuldeep is likely to be part of the India Test squad, but by countering his danger with some success England have thrown a challenge to him.

Nagraj Gollapudi is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo

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