One-dimensional attack hurts India
How can India stop an opposition as strong as England with a bowling attack that appears feeble by comparison? In the absence of a strike bowler, an experienced spinner and a specialist death bowler like Jade Dernbach, India clearly appear to be at a disadvantage.
It would not be wrong to define the Indian fast bowling line-up that featured at the Rose Bowl as a one-dimensional attack: they all bowl at the same pace, deploying mostly the same approach. Praveen Kumar, Munaf Patel and Vinay Kumar all bowl in the 78-80mph pace bracket, which is barely threatening. Both Praveen and Vinay rely on swing while Munaf combines accuracy with bounce and a cunning change of pace to buy his wickets.
But on Wednesday evening, on a wet surface the Indian fast bowling trio failed miserably. Their lack of success exposed not only R Ashwin, the lone specialist spinner, but also the second line of attack of Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli, who combined to do the fifth bowler's duties.
In the face of such modest pace, against which they could not only pick the balls but also the areas they wanted to hit to, the England opening pair of Craig Kieswetter and Alistair Cook rushed off the block confidently. So unafraid was Kieswetter that he started advancing down the track audaciously virtually every ball. There were a few false starts initially, but then unlike Usain Bolt, Kieswetter had a second chance.
England had dashed to 56 for 0 at the end of five overs; India took the bowling Powerplay immediately, but the England pair added another 19 runs in the next two overs. By the tenth over the hosts had pretty much sealed the match. MS Dhoni, India's captain, agreed when he highlighted India's fast bowling weakness.
"It became a difficult once the ball got wet," Dhoni said, searching for reasons more than excuses. "None of our fast bowlers are really genuinely quick. They look to swing the ball and when it does not swing as it is wet it becomes difficult." The wet ball, Dhoni pointed out, only carried on to the bat nicely, allowing the batsman to counter them easily.
As Kieswetter and Cook overwhelmed the Indians with their explosive batting, Dhoni used every means to try and stop them. He thought introducing Ashwin inside the first five overs could at least slow down the England run rate. But the offspinner was clobbered by Kieswetter for 16 runs in his first over, including two massive sixes.
"Once Vinay Kumar and Praveen Kumar went for runs I thought it would good to give the offspinner a chance, thinking that would make the difference but even he went for quite a few runs," Dhoni said. "In the first five overs nothing worked for us."
The absence of Yuvraj Singh, who performed the duties of the fifth bowler during the World Cup so successfully, has hurt India severely. Yuvraj's canny change of pace and an aggressive line of attack not only restricted the batsmen from scoring freely but also fetched key wickets. Dhoni said that was the difference in the two defeats, first in the Twenty20 at Old Trafford and now at Rose Bowl.
But with Yuvraj out of the series due to injury, and a part-timer like Ravindra Jadeja missing today's match due to visa issues that delayed his arrival, India have been forced to rely on Raina and Kohli for some overs. Today their four overs cost 35 runs and Dhoni was satisfied with that considering the assault the England openers meted out in the first ten overs.
"It is not about the players who are not part of the side," Dhoni said. "It is very important that the five bowlers that we have got and the two spinners make a real difference in the series."
He now expects Jadeja to fill in the breach left by Yuvraj. "When you have the fifth bowler you can manoeuvre the bowlers. But with Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina it is becoming difficult to manoeuvre the bowling. Those are the four overs where you do not want to give away too many runs. But if your first four bowlers are going for too many runs it becomes more difficult."
The Indian selectors never explain their reasoning to the public, so no one will ever know why they did not think of Jadeja as the fifth option when they picked the ODI squad. It makes them appear precious, and such an attitude is only hurting Indian cricket.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo